2012 Pinot Envy Uncorked

Charleston celebrated the Charleston Wine and Food Festival this weekend.  The weather did not cooperate Saturday, but the Festival was able to make rapid adjustments to ensure that events weren’t adversely affected.  Two years ago, I attended this event and was glad that I selected it, again, this year.  There were fewer wineries this year and more emphasis on food, and many of the wineries represented were new to me which made the event a wonderful learning (and tasting!) opportunity.

Andrew Rich Wines of Willamette Valley, OR, makes truly extraordinary wines.  His 2008 Pinot Noir The Knife Edge is the epitome of what Oregon Pinot Noir should be.  It is a glorious, deep red with a nose dominated by raspberries.  The wine is beautifully balanced with a long finish.

Jeff Gaffner, owner/winemaker at Saxon Brown Wines of Sonoma, CA, believes in bottle aging his wines for at least 18 months before releasing them.  For this reason, he is just releasing some of his 2008 Pinot Noirs.  I had the privilege of tasting both Parmelee Hill and Durrell Vineyards Pinot Noirs with 220 and 240 cases of the wines about to hit the market.  The Durrell is a deep, clear red with aromas of black cherry and spice.  It has good structure and will easily cellar for 10 years or longer, if anyone can wait that long!

Maysara Winery of McMinnville, OR, was another winery new to me.  The winemaker is one of the owners’ daughters, Tahmiene Momtazi, and her wines were indeed impressive.  The Momtazis farm biodynamically and are making lovely wines expressive of the land.  Try their Jamsheed 2008 Pinot Noir or 2009 3 Degrees Pinot Noir.  Both are accessibly priced and highly rated.

Loads of wonderful food tastings were available.  Of those I sampled, the oyster stew from Eurasia Café was my favorite.  The rich, creamy base was flavored with Old Bay seasoning and a splash of Tobasco.  It was ladled over a small scoop of mashed potatoes and finished with oysters and a sprinkle of bacon.  Truly to die for.

There were too many other wonderful wines and foods to describe in this post.  This is the seventh year for the Charleston Wine and Food Festival and it deserves the glowing reputation it  has achieved.



Recent Vintages for Oregon Pinot Noir

A friend and I made a return visit to McCrady’s for dinner last night and it was another extraordinary, well paced feast for the eyes and palate.  Pictured is the fish course I chose, lupina, with fresh sorrel sauce, fingerling potatoes, and sun chokes.  I took a bottle of Ken Wright 2008 Savoya Vineyard Pinot Noir to drink with dinner. 

Like Ken’s Meredith Mitchell Vineyard Pinot that was enjoyed with family in December, it is a firmly structured Pinot that definitely benefitted from decanting. Wine Specator believes the 2008 Oregon Pinots will be even better with another 2-3 years of bottle aging, so I am going to try to discipline myself to hold my remaining 2008’s.

2008 was a classic vintage year in Oregon with near perfect growing conditions.  The resulting wines, although thoroughly enjoyable now, have strong tannic structures that are more prominent than the ripe fruit flavors that will emerge over the next couple of years.  In 2009, after an unusually hot summer, the crop was large and the wines produced are somewhat softer in structure and bursting with ripe fruit flavors.  2007 and 2010 share similarities as a result of cool, rainy conditions.  Although these vintages are lighter in style, the better wine makers produced nicely balanced, food-friendly wines. 

Follow this link to find an extensive list of Oregon wines, ratings, and prices – Wine Spectator.


Oregon and Washington Class

My Total Wine store located at 1820 Ashley River Road puts on great wine classes.  There is usually one class per month on Saturdays from 3-5 with popular classes repeating on Thursdaysof the same week from 6:30-8:30.

For any of you with a Total Wine in the area, the classes and special events are well worth checking out.

Yesterday’s subject region was the Pacific Northwest featuring wines from Washington and Oregon.

My first surprise upon entering the classroom was seeing Winderlea Vineyard 2009 Pinot Noir on the table.  Wow!  Winderlea is one of the wineries I visited in Oregon and only 525 cases of this wonderful wine was produced. I was excited to see it at a large outlet like Total Wine and I must say it was the star of the show along with Stevens XY 2007 Yakima Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington.

Jean Paul holding Winderlea

As for the class itself, the first three wines presented were a Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay from Washington state and a Pinot Gris from Oregon.

We then moved into the reds, starting with Pinot Noir Kudos Reserve 2010.  It is produced in the Yamhill-Carlton District of the Willamette Valley, home to some of the finest Pinot Noir vineyards in the world, including Ken Wright’s. This wine is priced at $19.99 and I found it very enjoyable. It is a lighter style, ruby colored Pinot Noir that is full of fresh fruit flavors and aromas.  It would pair nicely with braised chicken or sauteed veal.

Finally, from Stevens Winery, was the aforementioned XY 2007 Yakima Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  It blew me away and with only 304 cases produced, I considered it a very special opportunity.  The wine is garnet/mahogany in color with intense flavors and medium tannins.  Tasting this wine makes you want to dig into a juicy steak or rack of lamb.  The tannic structure will allow it to age for at least 10 years.  The bottle I purchased will not be around for that long!  It is a higher end bottle at $44.99, but worth the investment for a special occasion dinner.

As a side note: Happy Valentine’s Day!

My friend, Chip, found a bottle of the René Geoffroy Rosé Champagne that I raved about at New Year’s (he discovered it at The Party Source in Bellevue, KY) and we will be enjoying it for our late Valentine’s celebration.


Definitely In Good Taste!

Continuing my exploration of Charleston area wine shops and wine bars that I have never visited, I stopped in at In Good Taste on Friday evening.  In Good Taste is a cozy shop that has been in business for over 25 years and is owned by Jacki Boyd.  The store offers wines, whole bean coffees, teas, cheeses, and an assortment of gourmet items including spices.

On the tasting table were wines from Darcie Kent Vineyards, a label unknown to me.  Darcie is both a winemaker and an artist, working in acrylics and water colors to create gorgeous art for the labels that adorn the wines she and her husband make in California’s Livermore Valley.  They specialize in single vineyard wines using grapes from their own vineyards as well as from select growers in the area.

There was a Gruner Vetliner, a wine that I didn’t know was made outside of Austria.  It is a gentle white wine that is pleasant by itself or with cheeses or any light fare.  Next was a Sauvignon Blanc that was less citrusy than many and would complement food nicely.  The West Pinnacles Pinot Noir 2007 was impressive and an excellent wine to enjoy with food.  It has a tawny color and nice tannic structure – not one of the “cherry berry” types of Pinot.  The last of the 4 wines being tasting that night was Madden Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. I decided to purchase a bottle of the Pinot Noir.  I took it home and enjoyed it with a grilled rib eye steak, sauteed mushrooms and grilled asparagus.  The white wines are in the $15 range and the reds $19, reasonable prices for high quality single vineyard wines.  Plus those beautiful labels!

In Good Taste also offers cooking classes and wine classes in addition to Friday and Saturday tastings.  Be sure to stop by to meet Jacki and browse the offerings.


Charleston Restaurant Week

Charleston Restaurant Week is in full swing.  On Wednesday, a friend and I tried one of the city’s newer restaurants, The Grocery.  This is another eatery dedicated to serving fresh, locally sourced products.  It has a rather bare bones decor, which suits the building that houses it as well as its name. We selected J. Christopher 2009 Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley to enjoy with dinner.  It is a blended Pinot with dominant black cherry flavors and not too fruity – an ideal food wine.

For the first course, I started with Fried Oysters, attractively served on oyster shells with a “devilled egg sauce” and homemade bread and butter pickles.  So good I would have liked a second order!  For the entree, I chose the Braised Lamb Shoulder.  It was richly flavored, melt in the mouth tender, and served with wilted greens.  Dessert was decadent.  We couldn’t resist a house specialty – churros served with 3 dipping sauces that included salted caramel, chili-orange chocolate, and vaniila sauce anglaise.  Added to that was the Banana Cream Trifle.  We ate everything – it was all too good to resist!  When was it that I was going to start trying to lose weight?

Dining is just too good in Charleston.  To any of my readers who live elsewhere, include a visit to Charleston in your future travel plans.  And for you locals, enjoy…and try The Grocery. 


Great Little Wine Bar

A friend recently suggested that I check out a wine bar called How Art Thou Café.  Located on James Island, it features local artists as well as a fairly extensive wine list, coffee, juices, and a light food menu.  The café also hosts Friday evening wine tastings to benefit local charities.  Last night’s was in support of Our Lady of Mercy Outreach, an organization that provides health, education and outreach services to local families in need.  Enjoying some wine are Deborah LaRoche, the Executive Director, with friends Holly and Autumn.

Trish Digliodo of Vidalco and Holly Roberson

Vidalco, a Charleston based wine distributor, provided the wine for the tasting.  Included were a Portuguese sparkling wine and a wonderful Malbec, always a good choice on a chilly evening.  From How Are Thou’s wine list I tried Anne Amie 2008 Pinot Noir from Oregon and Puydeval Rouge 2010, a French blend.

Amazing Dinner

McCrady’s Restaurant provided one of the most memorable dining experiences I have had anywhere in years last Friday.  It was so perfect, I just had to write about it.  My friend, Chip, and I were greeted warmly at the reception stand and immediately shown to our beautiful table in front of one of the room’s two enormous fireplaces.  We opted to order from McCrady’s four course tasting menu which is very reasonably priced at $60 per person (not including wine).

McCrady’s was one of the earliest adopters to begin purchasing from local farmers and in fact, their Executive Chef, Sean Brock, has his own farm.  Our first courses were an artfully arranged beet salad with huckleberries and almonds and a dish of red peas with cauliflower, fennel and a slow cooked pullet egg.  Divine.  The dishes were paired with Leitz Dry Riesling.  Next were a perfectly poached nugget of grouper and a dish of clams and oysters with fennel and saffron cream.  With this I had a glass of Albarino, one of my favorite Spanish whites.  From the meat courses we selected a duo of pork and duck aged and roasted on the bone.  Both were superb and beautifully complimented by Chateau Musar 2002, a red blend from Lebanon that I would never have chosen, but our server, Jodi, assured me it was the perfect choice.  Because of the portion sizes and the slow pace, we still had room for dessert.  We chose the warm walnut cake and the selection of artisanal cheeses.  In addition to the tasting menu, McCrady’s offers an á la carte menu and “bar bites” that can be enjoyed in their cozy bar area.

The setting was beautiful, the food exquisite, and the service flawless.  All led to a truly extraordinary dining experience.  If you can make a trip to McCrady’s, I highly recommend it.  And yes, they are participating in the upcoming Charleston Restaurant Week!  Go!

Happy New Year!

Happy 2012, friends and followers.  I hope your holidays were joyful.  For me, the month of December was filled with parties, great friends, family, and loads of good food and wine.  I am going to have to clean up my act for at least a month! 

On Christmas Eve, my brother, sister-in-law, and I started the evening with a bottle of Chartogne-Taillet Brut Rosé that was sublime. The wine is a beautiful salmon colored rosé, quite dry with luscious fruit.  Then, on New Year’s Eve, my dear friend, Chip, and I popped a bottle of René Geoffroy Rosé de Saignée Brut that was even more incredible. It is 100% Pinot Noir and a gorgeous raspberry color.  After chilling it, we found it was best when it warmed up just slightly in the glass in order to take full advantage of the amazing aromas and flavors.  The Chartogne-Taillet is in the $55 range and the Geoffroy is about $70.00.

To a wonderful 2012!

Celebrate with Champagne and Sparkling

‘Tis the season – two Champagne tastings last week!  Harry Root, owner of Grass Roots Wine, presented the consumer version of the grower/producer seminar I attended last month.  He provided loads of valuable information and poured 8 grogeous wines. 

I began learning about the importance of soil or “terroir” in Oregon, understanding the differences in the wines made from grapes grown in volcanic versus sedimentary soils. Chalky soil that was formed millions of years ago is the foundation for the grapes that produce Champagne.  It holds a tremendous amount of moisture and prevents the vines from suffering drought in an area that averages only 26 inches of rainfall per year, near the minimum for grape growing.  All Grand Cru and and Premier Cru designated vineyards in Champagne are within the Marne “Department” or area of Champagne.  Favorite selections from this tasting included Pehu-Simonet Verzenay Brut which is 78% Pinot Noir.  It is grown on a north-facing slope which produces an earthier wine.  I also loved the Vilmart & Cie Grand Cellier Brut that is 60% Chardonnay and aged in oak.  It reminded me of Krug Champagne the way it used to be, back in the 80’s.

The other tasting was at The Wine Shop.  Debbie presented 6 wines that included sparkling as well as Champagne.  If you are not familiar with Gruet, make it a point to try some during the holidays.  Gruet is a winery in New Mexico that was founded by a French winemaker in 1983. It is widely available and very reaonable at about $15.00.  I am especially fond of the rosé – it is such a lovely color.

Happy Holidays and á santé!

An Excellent Oregon Pinot at a Bargain Price

Hello, everyone.  I hope you are all well and enjoying the pre-holiday doings.  Let’s go back to Pinot Noir, specifically Ken Wright’s fabulous 2009 blend.  I have been busy sharing this delightful wine with friends and everyone loves it.  Ken created this blend for the first time in 2009 for the purpose of being able to offer one of his Pinots at a friendlier price point.  That price is $25.00 and it is a bargain!  To quote Ken: “Though not at the same level of complexity as the vineyard designates, this blend is extremely enjoyable, lush and full of pure, Pinot fruit. It is also a terrific value. The blend consists of fruit from Abbott Claim, Canary Hill, Carter, Freedom Hill, Guadalupe, McCrone, Meredith Mitchell, Nysa and Savoya vineyards.”  Check out Ken Wright Cellars to order or to determine whether there is a distributor in your area.  (This is not a sponsored message!  I just love Ken’s wines and this one is such a deal.)  Even with shipping, it is worth ordering direct from the winery.