Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mutiny on the Bounty - The Pinot Noir Edition

This summer it became generally decided in the house that Pinot Noir was the thing to drink, no matter the weather or the occasion, and it would be drunk no matter who (me) didn't care for the varietal. My opposition and my wallet had blocked a large amount of the Pinot purchasing, but when I left for Denver, it was a mutinous scene. I suppose that it makes sense, as we were in Oregon, smack dab in the Willamette Valley, and hence in the center of the Pinot Noir world. And against my preconcieved notions about the grape (I'll just say it: jammy, unbalanced, etc.), five bottles of Pinot Noir later, and I'm happy to announce that I'm a Pinot Noir convert.

I think that the epiphany moment, and I know it doesn't fit the cheap motif of this blog, occurred when I had a $32 2009 Bethel Heights Estate Grown Pinot Noir. It was a summer weight Pinot Noir, thereby unconvincing me of the jammy and overdone notes I'd tasted in some of previous wines. The Bethel Heights Pinot Noir, grown near Salem, Oregon, was and will probably remain, my favorite Pinot Noir. It was so perfectly balanced, with a hint of cherries and plum on the nose that drew lightly along my tongue. It finished with perfect smoothness, the taste of raspberries and soft tannins.
Excited by this Pinot Noir, I both searched for and stumbled upon some great, cheap Pinot Noirs. Though it's a commonly held belief in Oregon that buying a Pinot under $20 is a great travesty, I beg to differ. I actually think that it's one of the wines that isn't terrible at a cheap price. Without heavy tannins like a Cabernet, there is little risk of uncomfortable sharpness to the wine, and without a tendency toward sweetness (like some Merlots), the wine doesn't ever verge into being sickly sweet. Because I have tried so many and I have also misplaced my tasting notebook in the move from Oregon to Washington, I will briefly go over some of the more affordable glasses I had. If you're not in the mood for shelling out $30+ for a bottle of wine, then read on. If you are... you've got my recommendation already.
2009 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Pinot Noir (California)- I had this wine on two occasions and on one, I absolutely loved it. On the second, I thought that it lacked some balance and some of the finesse of other Pinot Noirs I'd tried. Ben, however, loves this one. I think this Pinot might be the heaviest Pinot Noir I tried, thick with berries and spice throughout the glass. If you're looking for a cheap table wine and you like Pinot Noir, this is a good deal. You can find it for $8-$10.

2009 Eola Hills Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley) - Not only does this bottle look rather snazzy, the wine inside is excellent. This is certainly my favorite Pinot Noir of the cheap list. It's a bit more expensive than the rest, but with the extra few dollars comes a great flavor and balance. Notes of cherry and berries with soft tannins on the finish. This wine captured the best elements of a Pinot Noir. $15-$20.

2009 Lindeman's Bin 99 Pinot Noir (Australia) - For the price, $6.99-7.99, this wine was a great deal. It was light and drinkable, with soft fruit and spice notes complimenting each other, this Pinot Noir wasn't overwhelming. Ben felt it was a bit minerally for him, but I enjoyed it better than the Mondavi when I first tried them side to side. For $6.99, though, it's hard to regret the purchase.
2009 Castle Rock Pinot Noir (Bottled in California, sourced in the Columbia Valley) - Though the bouquet was sweet and jammy, the wine definitely was not. Notes of cherry and currant, followed by a smooth finish with subtle tannins. A full-bodied Pinot Noir that was an entirely drinkable, food wine. It lacked the balance of a more expensive bottle, as the front end was light and the back end heavy. A great deal! On sale for $7.99 though listed at $11.99.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A tribute to summer whites

From above, it would appear that I am sitting in the epicenter of a large, household earthquake, clothing strewn about me, boxes half-opened and half-filled radiating away from my person in no particular order. Once again, I’m packing and moving. I guess I’m not really moving but moving out (I don’t think that you can actually move when you don’t have a place to move to)… So goes my warm season (I’m not calling it summer anymore since my unemployment makes the summer some kind of unappreciated, hateful, and endless concept). I am moving up to Seattle, to live with family for a bit, while I continue to search for jobs in the city. As it currently stands, the only jobs I don’t want involve working with children or liquid waste. Anything else? I’ll take it.

Naturally, because I have to move things, it’s hot out. The weather waited until just now to get sweltering, so that I could wander around the garage like an ungainly savanna creature, battling massive spiders for possession of my boxed up kitchen gadgets. As I wait until it’s an appropriate time to make a refreshing afternoon beverage, I figured it was a good time to share some of the white wines I tried recently.

With so few days left of warm weather (Washington’s “beautiful summer” lasts from August 15th to August 30th), it’s a great time to drink cool and refreshing white wines. It also seems like they’re on sale right now as stores try to move their white wine summer stock out in favor of getting warm fall drinks on the shelves. The first white I tried was a 2008 Marotti Campi Luzano ($10.99), a white wine from Italy made from verdicchio grapes. I was expecting a dryer white, but upon opening the wine the bouquet was of citrus fruit, pear, and apple. It smelled very similar to a Riesling. This wine had notes of grapefruit and pear, and had a dry finish that cut the sweetness of the wine. The back end seemed rather sharp and acidic to me, but upon looking up the varietal, I found that verdicchio wines are known for their high acidity and citrusy flavors. I found this wine to be somewhat off-balance, a suggestion that verdicchio grapes are not a good wine for me. This wine’s seemingly odd mix of acidity and sweetness made it similarly difficult to think of anything it would pair well with. A friend that I was drinking it with suggested, simply, that the only thing it would go well with was “green beans.” And that, I think, might tell more about this wine than any tasting notes can.

The second white I tried was a much better success and a really great deal. If you’re looking for a cheap summer white wine, perfect for lounging about on the porch in the heat, I strongly suggest buying the 2009 Columbia Crest Two Vines Pinot Grigio. It was on sale at Fred Meyer for $6.99 and comes with the recommendation of earning many “Best Value” awards, but also with an impressive 87 points from Wine Spectator. This Pinot Grigio was much sweeter and less dry than many I’ve had in the past but was so perfectly well-rounded that the sweetness was neither grating nor tiring. It opened with citrus and floral notes and finished with a distinct flavor of honeysuckle. It was extremely smooth, especially for a seven-dollar bottle of wine. I had this wine with fresh tomatoes and basil from the garden, a warm baguette and brie… and as delicious as the food and wine were separately, I’d strongly recommend against the pairing. The food (probably the balsamic vinegar on the tomatoes) made the wine biting and acidic. I’d go for something lighter and less sharp as a pair, perhaps fish or chicken.

To finish, and I know I already posted about this, I entered a wine contest on and would love if you’d read my article here and like, tweet, recommend or plus it! I could win $250 if I beat the other entries.

Any question or comments or wines to try? Email

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Mired in a rather disappointing and yet all-consuming job search, I’ve been looking for more ingenious ways to earn money. In an amazing merging of interests, (writing, wine, and money), I joined an online wine community called Snooth and found a wine writing contest that challenged me to write about my “epiphany wine,” or the wine that made me actually love wines. It was really fun to write and hopefully I can do well enough in the social media aspect of the contest (you have to promote your writing to garner it the most tweets, likes, pluses, and recommendations) to win the grand prize. If you’re interested in reading my essay about the 2006 Rosemount Estate Shiraz, my own epiphany wine, then please go to this link: If you like it, I’d be thrilled if you voted and helped me pull ahead in the competition (you don't need to be a member of the site to like, plus, tweet the post).

If you're interested in an online wine community, I’ve found Snooth to be a great resource (it’s easy to sign up through Facebook) for finding new wines and talking to people about wine. The forums are helpful for recommendations and pairing suggestions and there are very knowledgable people on the site that aren't snobby or elitist about wines. 

If you have an suggestions or comments, please let me know at

Monday, August 15, 2011

Battle of the Reds: Washington vs. Napa Valley

Yesterday was one of those perfect summer days—the kind you usually only see in movies where the characters all have perfect teeth and unwrinkled wardrobes. I spent the morning reading Middlesex outside amongst the dandelions, and by four o’clock a very light breeze had picked up, cutting the afternoon heat into evening warmth. At five o’clock, I went to a friend’s farewell dinner party, where we drank excellent lemon drops and ate fresh Caprese salad out on the porch. For dinner, along with steaks and grilled portabellas, we had two different new world cabernet sauvignons and finished the evening with homemade cheesecake and black tea. There is something magical about the clinking dance that people do as they pass glasses, knives, forks, wine bottles, and serving trays around the room. Goods exchange hands rather rapidly, bright red wine dripping down bottles and onto the tablecloth, long trays of grilled zucchini and corn lifted above shorter heads and passed around taller ones. It is almost choreographed, a broken glass or dropping fork the only suggestion that the whole beautiful scene wasn’t set up for someone else’s viewing pleasure.

In between courses and lulls in conversation, I pulled my aerator from my purse (I was asked to bring it!) and began taste-testing the just-opened cabernets. The results were remarkable; propelling a chain of tasting that overtook the dinner table completely. I’ve already given a spiel about the joys of the Vinturi aerator, so I won’t bore you with another (you can read the original post if you want to), but I will say that the difference in wine quality of aerated versus non-aerated was particularly intense in the newly opened bottles of cabernet. The tightness of the wines, the undeveloped notes, and the high acidity at the end of each sip were completely dissolved—what emerged were well-rounded, totally drinkable wines, just minutes after being opened. A definite plus for people that aren't keen on waiting a few hours for a wine to naturally aerate.

The first wine we tasted was a 2008 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon ($15). The wine opened with soft notes of cherry and plum, full enough to give the wine body but not overpowering or jammy. It was balanced with notes of oak, pepper, and a finished with smooth and soft tannins. The second wine we tried was a 2008 Hawkstone Vineyards: Barney's Heritage Cabernet Sauvignon ($19). This Napa Valley cabernet was more complex than the Washington state cabernet, the earthy and peppery notes especially strong. I had a hard time grasping the opening fruit notes as they seemed overpowered by the structured tannins and spicy flavors. I would have much rather had this cabernet in the winter, when a heartier and warmer wine would have had a better effect. In the summer weather it seemed a bit too heavy for my tastes and I found myself going back to the Chateau Ste. Michelle where there was a notable balance to the wine. I was particularly thrilled to find that I enjoyed the less expensive wine more than the more expensive wine, further proving that higher price does not necessarily mean higher quality, and inexpensive wines have much to offer. I guess it doesn’t hurt that a Washington state wine beat out a Napa Valley wine… but that’s a whole different story.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Warm afternoons and beautiful wines

Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance - Benjamin Franklin

Though I have three bottles of wine sitting in various locations about the house (an Italian Verdicchio in the fridge, an Argentinean Bonarda next to the microwave, and a beautiful French Rosé in a brown paper bag underneath the bed), I thought I would write today about shopping for wine. I normally buy wine in the grocery store, a mission secondary to actual grocery shopping, and the experience is often cold, both literally and figuratively. In Fred Meyer, the wine section is sandwiched between refrigerated cases of Miller Genuine Draft and a shelving unit that offers both jugs of Carlo Rossi and donut holes. A far cry from the hills worth of grapes, warm glasses drunk by candlelight, and dashing European men we envision when we think about our ideal wine experience. The grocery store, instead, makes picking out a wine rather impersonal—rows of chilly bottles stare indiscriminately at you and it’s very rare that one jumps out and says buy me.  

And so, a few days ago, I had the rare and lovely experience of stumbling upon a beautiful wine store. Tucked into an odd part of town I rarely visit, next to a bookstore and a burrito place, was Sundance Wine Cellars. Walking in, I was struck by the bright room, filled with afternoon light… and then I noticed the aisles worth of wine. An employee that greeted me warned me not to get overwhelmed, as if it was a common ailment that happened to all wine lovers that came inside. And it turned out to be a very good warning as I found myself instantly lost and rather stricken in the rows and rows of beautiful bottles. In bright, unfinished wood boxes, the wines beckoned quietly. I found myself wandering through wine displays as if I was traveling through appellations and I couldn’t stop myself from touching the bottles. There were wines I knew and loved well, but there were so many that I’d never even heard of, and so the experience became one totally centered on traveling through this library of wine, instead of shivering in the center of an unhappy aisle.

In a happy wine bliss (and with two new wines to try), I had the good fortune to stumble upon an even more awe-inspiring wine shopping experience. Tucked in a tiny little room in downtown Eugene is a store called Authentica Wines. The high step into the store made me feel as if I was climbing into a new world. Against the wall were beautiful wine posters, one in black and white of a woman, a wine glass casting a shadow along her back, and along the floor were little crates full of wine. Inside the bright wood boxes were bottles of wine nestled in straw. Little pedestals and wrought-iron tables held tiny collections of bottles that glistened in the afternoon light filtering in high windows. White strands of Christmas lights hung lazily on the walls and around displays, giving the room an air of understated festivity—as if shopping for wine was a holiday in itself. And on each bottle, the proprietor had written the prices in a silver pen, barely noticeable, but so remarkably thoughtful that I couldn’t help but notice. As the proprietor recommended me a Rosé (the most beautiful Rosé I have ever seen), I noticed that every single wine in the store was beautiful in itself. There were no gaudy pictures, no harsh colors, no vivid or jagged lettering on the labels, only absolutely stunning bottles of wine.

I left the store with my heart tight. There is quite possibly nothing I love more than beautiful things, except maybe wine—and this store brought the two together. I suppose that I am trying to suggest that wine shopping should, unless in the case of a dire emergency, be a beautiful perusal instead of a harried, chilly grocery shopping experience. Most cities, wine-enlightened or not, have wine or liquor boutiques where buyers take great time to know the wine merchants, growers, and drinkers. And those buyers take time to find wines that you’ll love. It makes an amazing difference. So find a wine boutique or wine store close to you and support someone who loves wine just as much as you do. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Brave New World

I’m back in Oregon, after a very quick month at the Denver Publishing Institute, and it’s nice to be in a place that has clouds and living grass. Though my days, for the past three weeks, have been filled with fruitless job searching/applying/begging, I did arrive home to my birthday gifts: two Riedel wine glasses and two coupons for the wine(s) of my choice. My excessively heavy suitcases still in the car, my boyfriend and I stopped by Fred Meyer to find a New World wine (either a cabernet sauvignon or merlot) that would best compliment my new glasses. We settled on a bottle of Joel Gott 815 Cabernet Sauvingon from California. Because it was a special occasion and Ben had been so generous (naïve?) as to put a $20 per bottle ceiling on the wine coupon, I splurged… well, I guess he splurged. I had this wine last Thanksgiving with my family, at the recommendation of a local wine shop, Grapes, in Hawaii, and I’d remembered it as being extremely good. I suppose that writing that $16.99 for a bottle of wine is a splurge affirms my current income-less state, but this wine even tastes spendy. 

In order to prove that my recent wine accoutrement accumulation was worth it, I taste-tested this wine with a various cast of glasses and with and without my aerator. I first tasted the wine in a small wine glass not designed to enhance a red wine; second, I then aerated it in that same glass and tasted it; and third, I aerated the wine and drank from the new glasses. The difference was extremely noticeable. The first glass left something to be desired. I felt as if the wine needed to be swirled in the glass or left open on the counter so that the bouquet could open. The wine tasted too simple for a cabernet. After aerating the wine, in the second step, the nose was distinct with scents of cherry, and the tannins were stronger upon the swallow. When I used my new glasses, specifically designed for cabernets, the wine tasted exactly as a cabernet should. It opened with a light taste of cherry and was followed by notes of cedar (the cedar notes were made evident only in the final test). The long finish was extremely smooth with structured tannins and a hint of acidity.

Though I went through this tasting process, this wine never tasted too sharp or undeveloped. I'm pretty sure that it'd taste great even in a coffee mug as long as you let it breathe for a bit. This wine was exceptionally smooth and embodied the best elements of a cabernet—full-bodied, hints of berry and with noticeable tannins on the long finish. The bouquet and mouth-feel were much more complex than a merlot, but the smoothness and light notes of fruit made it much more drinkable than a zinfandel or even a malbec. So if you have any hesitations about this varietal, give the Joel Gott a try and you'll be an instant convert. I'd recommend this wine to everyone and anyone. 

Have any suggestions for a wine to taste, try and love? Leave me a comment and I’ll see what I can do!