Wine Awesomeness “Women in Wine” Month: a tale of two reds

Oye! It’s almost November. How did that happen?! I bring to you today a tale of two reds that hail from the bros over at Wine Awesomeness. Errr… well, in the spirit of disclosure, I write for these fellas at their site The Back Label, and have for years. So while I’m not their employee, I do have a vested interest in talking to you about these wines. Mostly because I’m quite fond of these dudes, and also because every time a blue box from WA shows up at my door, I am surprised and delighted at the quality of wine they’ve been able to pull together. More on that later.

The cat clearly enjoys blue box day, too.

The cat clearly enjoys blue box day, too.

First! A little information on the Women in Wine month that I helped (a little) put together for October. I’ve been jacked up on the idea of a Women in Wine theme for quite a while. Like probably over a year. I consider myself a feminist in most regards, although that word is a bit out of fashion. I studied feminist theory a little in school, and it interested me because taking a historical look at the “strings” that connect the way women are have been perceived, treated, marginalized and boxed in over the course of history is eye-opening. Things that you might not think of: the idea of “the male gaze” and things being visually geared towards a (straight) man. Once someone points that out to you, you can’t not see it everywhere. And then there are obvious little annoyances like gender pay inequality that still baffle me and make me declare myself a feminist.

I would like those chicken & waffles delivered, please.

I would like those chicken & waffles delivered, please.

All that aside, when I first chatted with Hayes over at WA about this theme, what we agreed on is this: Women in Wine really shouldn’t be a thing. Yes, women can and do make wine. What makes anyone think they can’t or don’t? Why do we need to point this out? If someone did a “Men in Wine” month it would encounter many a puzzled look.

But therein lies the point, in a way. Women in Wine is something cool to showcase. Still. Will women always be the other? And with that, we end the soapbox portion of this entry. If you like hearing me on a soapbox, check out my piece on gendered wine descriptions.

So! Now we get to the real reason you clicked on this: the wine! Lets talk about a two of the reds that came in the Women in Wine shipment…

Three Rivers Winery “River’s Red”, 2012 Washington, Columbia Valley

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When you live in Oregon and are surrounded by amazing Oregon wine, you can become entrenched in the Oregon wine bubble. That’s why its so refreshing to visit a wine like this, from our neighbor to the North. This is a blend of Merlot, Sangiovese, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Lemberger (no shit!) The Sangio lends a bright red berry component to this wine, but the nice hints of dark chocolate are all Merlot. The Lemberger (aka Blaufrankisch) threw me for a loop, but I have seen drops of it trickle down here to Oregon, so I know its out there. Winemaker Holly Turner is from McMinnville- holla! All in all, a solid little bottle perfect for weeknight consumption with just about everything. Like a weeks worth of The Daily Show episodes.

Pellegrini “Susan’s Vineyard” Zinfandel, 12 California, Russian River Valley

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Confession: I’m not typically a huge fan of Zinfandel in this price range. Give me a $50 bottle of Turley and I’ll be Zin’s biggest fan. But a lot of times I find them a one-note symphony of over the top jam/berry pie/cooked fruit/pepper/etc. and I’m just not captivated.

But this little guy? Delicious! Again, maybe I’ve been in the Oregon bubble too long, but I’m all about this big California nose right now. True to its nature, this wine is full of boysenberry, raspberry, black cherry and vanilla on the nose. The palate is where you see this wine’s self-discipline: a vein of acid carries the big fruit along, accentuating with spicy notes of black pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, and chocolate covered espresso beans. Its just a touch more polished than it has to be. I love Zins with a burger or braised short ribs, and with winter almost here, the latter sounds pretty gd great.

Another fun thing for you to check out in Women in Wine month: a wonderful article about Leah Jorgensen and her brilliant Loiregon wines (these are a favorite discovery of mine since I’ve been out here). Don’t miss that one.

For real though, and no one is paying me to say this, I take my hat off to the WA team. They kill it with the wine selections and with the creative themes. Its easy to dismiss the idea of these web-based wine clubs. I’m sure there are plenty out there that just try to grab closeouts, off-vintages, bankrupt wineries, whatever- and they throw the wines out there for a high markup. That’s never been the case here, and it really shows. They seek out interesting wines and try like hell every month to make you see what’s cool about them. I have fun with it, and I’m someone who’s worked with wine for almost a decade. Yeesh, I’m old. And on that note, it’s almost 8:00pm, which means my eyes are about to give out.

Side notes: a.) no, no one paid me to write this or suggested I write this. I wanted to, and b.) these wines are received as “samples”? I guess. Whatever.

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Food Porn Friday! Loiregon Dinner at SE Wine Collective

Yes, yes, its been a hot second since I last posted. Let me tell you a one word answer for why this is:

SUMMER. 

Like a child who just got out of school, I have been suffering (although it really doesn’t feel like suffering) from extreme lack of desire to focus or even be inside. Summers in South Carolina were so hot, long and brutal that I confess to never really enjoying them. But this?! THIS Summer is the real deal. IT STAYS LIGHT UNTIL 10:00, y’all! And I have a sweet front porch. And a garden. So yes- my love for writing is real. But sometimes I just. don’t. wanna. And to be honest, I can’t really apologize for that. It’s summer!

But I’m breaking the spell today and I hope you’re ready for a truly gratuitous food porn edition. I’ve been thinking about the food from last week’s Vive Loiregon! Dinner at the SE Wine Collective a lot. There were several items that left quite an impression. Couple that with another meal I had there about two weeks prior, and I gotta tellya- Chef Althea is the real deal. I love her style; non-fussy but precisely composed and thought-out. That tiny kitchen is churnin’ out some really fantastic eats. I’ve always liked small kitchens.

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First a little background on the Loiregon Dinner, because it was such a fun and inventive way to bring food and wine together: the dinner featured four wines that were all sourced from the Quady North Vineyard in Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley. Herb Quady was even there!

This guy.

This guy.

I had a brief fangirl moment, since I have been crushing on Herb’s rosé for months. But I kept it together.

But back to the dinner! All four wines were sourced from Herb’s Quady North vineyard. All wines were “Loirecentric” (I made that word up) and three out of the four were made from all Cabernet Franc. By Loirecentric, I mean that all four wines were made as a sort of ode to France’s Loire Valley.

We started with the Jackalope Whité, 2014. Whité, you ask? Well, ya see… this wine was originally supposed to be a rosé. But is any wine really “supposed” to be anything? This wine just wasn’t having it and didn’t retain any pigment. Hence, it has been dubbed Whité, which I think makes for a fantastic story and I respect the wine’s tenacity to be what it wanted. The Whité was served with some passed appetizers:

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I looooved this one: mussels with sauce vert and a potato crisp. The little crunch you got alongside the mussel was perfection.

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Pork Rillettes on crostini with picked cherries– likewise, the pickled cherries were fantastic. They maintained their sweetness, but something pickled always sets off a fat-rich item like pork rillettes.

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We then moved outside, where it was as picturesque a Portland night as you can imagine. About four days later, the heat set in. Oye. The first wine served was one I had also tried and loved not so long ago at the PDX Urban Wine Experience- the Division-Villages “Béton” Cabernet Franc/Gamay, 2014. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: this red is absolutely ideal for serving with a slight chill on a warm night. Aged in concrete, the mineral notes really pop alongside its bright, tangy fruit content. The Gamay grapes for this wine were fermented carbonically, and when that meets the slatey smokiness of the Cab Franc- tres magnifique!

Plus, the label? The best.

Plus, the label? The best.

Served with the Béton was one of my favorite things to pair with wine: tartare! This was Full Circle bison tartare with smoked egg yolk (wicked cool, and cool lookin’), morels and a semolina cracker:

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So dainty.

Raw meat is a fun thing to pair with wine, and this wine in particular. The mineral content is nicely offset by the raw meat. The iron/blood (sounds gross, tastes great) goes well with a mineral-driven red. No lie.

Next we had Leah Jorgenson’s “Loiregon” Cabernet Franc, 2013– another wine I have had and loved before- with a beautiful chilled zucchini, nasturtium leaf & pistachio soup topped with Oregon Olive Mill olive oil:

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Leah’s wine was one of my first Southern Oregon Cab Francs that I tried back in December or January. It packs an awesome punch of gunsmoke, sweet blackberries, plums and hints of something floral- hibiscus, I believe someone mentioned at the dinner. I had to confess to those around me that back on the east coast, word on Southern Oregon hasn’t really spread. Before I moved out here, I pretty much thought Oregon stopped at the Rogue Valley (d’oh).

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If anyone could and should spread the Southern Oregon love to the other coast, its these folks. You heard it here.

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We finished with a grilled flat iron steak, crispy smoked new potatoes, caper & green olive aioli, baby arugula, lemon vinaigrette and chives. To drink? Quady North Mae’s Vineyard Cabernet Franc, 2011. This is a richly scented red, with well-woven notes of chocolate, sweet red pepper, cedar and briary goodness.

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Oh! One more thing: Pholia Family Farms Hillis Peak Goat Cheese with strawberry coulis, pickled green strawberry, brown sugar & cracked pepper walnuts. And a wee sip of the just disgorged (literally, Tom disappeared, came back with a wet shirt and announced “its been disgorged) Division Crémant de Portland, 2013. I’ve had a few versions of this wine- first in December when it had just been bottled, again in February, and then this one which had hung out on the lees much longer. It offered a more honeyed palate, more developed and settled into itself. Pretty durn good.

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This was a freaking great dinner. Completely non-pretentious. At the beginning, Herb waxed poetic about the idea of a “winemaker dinner” versus “dinner with the winemakers.” I really think this concept was captured; no one preached, no one made “sales-y” pushes, no one talked about scores. It was just about enjoying the company, the food and the wine as one experience.

Side note- I do apologize- I took pictures of Kate, Tom, Corey and Leah as well, but they all came out just dreadfully. I can’t bring myself to include them. The “mid-sentence facial twist” just isn’t a good look for anyone.

Oh, and last but not least, this guy was also an excellent dinner companion:

Cassidy. Good boy.

Cassidy. Good boy.

Many thanks to all involved for such a wonderful evening!

André Vatan “Les Charmes” Sancerre, 11 France and an ode to the half bottle…

So, I dig half bottles.

Always have, but now that I’m no longer working in a restaurant where I have access to 30 open bottles of wine at all times, I like them even more. I wouldn’t call myself indecisive, but I have always enjoyed options. I’m that person that when I go out to eat, would rather have two (three?) appetizers than one entrée. Don’t bother going out to dinner with me if you’re not a sharer. I’m usually a sharer, but when I’m not I will always be up front about it. “I’m getting THIS and I’m not sharing.” I have uttered those words. It only happens when I’m ordering something I reeeeally like, that I’ve had before, and know in advance that I will have pre-item arrival anxiety if I don’t get enough.

Trips to Vegas and beef carpaccio are flashing before my eyes. Todd English… I love you.

But, moving on from my dining habits, lets talk about drinking habits, and why it’s so fun to incorporate half bottles. And once place in particular that I’ve begun frequenting that has a marvelous selection of half bottles. Feast your eyes:

Such excitement over this.

Such excitement over this.

So Valley Wine Merchants is a cool little retail wine shop in Newberg, Oregon where you can find this marvelous wall of 375ml bottles. There are also a few select glass pours available (today there was an Albert Boxler Sylvaner and an 07 Beaux Fréres- WUT?!- among others) and some snacks and such. A very cool spot. It reminds me of my alma mater, Cellar on Greene, except without the restaurant. The owner, Andrew, is very knowledgeable and has been a good resource for me since I landed. He hosted an awesome tasting with Dick Ponzi a few weeks ago where he opened an ’85 and ’86 Ponzi Pinot Noir for a seriously modest cost. Loved it. Props!

So the wine! Domaine André Vatan “Les Charmes” Sancerrre; I bought this because I had a dozen of the freshest Kumumoto oysters ever in my car, and wanted a little something to go with them. These little suckers were amazing. Also, I learned how to shuck an oyster today. A skill I anticipate using quite often now that I live in the Pacific Northwest…

Briney. Amazing.

Briney. Amazing.

I like trying new things, and this is a new producer to me, but I love Sancerre. Sauvignon Blanc is at its best in the Loire, in my humble opinion. At $16 retail this is definitely a bottle I’d buy again. The nose is a nice combination of gooseberry alongside fresh flowers, lime zest, and a nice smokey edge. Tingly on the tastebuds, and plenty of striking minerality. I get a hint of something spicy in here, too… like almost a chile pepper, but not quite. Plus a little bit of grass and honeysuckle. It has a nice texture; the mouthfeel is soft and elegant. It was really nice with the oysters- I might’ve liked something a bit more saline in this scenario, but overall a pretty nice match. The green hints went really nicely with the mignonette I threw together. What? It’s like 4 ingredients!

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I feel like I’ve crossed over into snobbery, with the oysters and the mignonette and all, but I couldn’t help myself. I mean I kinda wanted the $40-ish bottle of Albert Boxler Pinot Blanc, but I held back! That counts for something.

Here’s another cute half bottle, the EIEIO “Swine Wine” Rie-Chard in Piglet (375ml) form. I love this little bottle…

Piglet.

Piglet.

So I’ve gotten a little wordy here, but the point is- half bottles are a super fun way to get to drink more than one kind of wine in a night. I also use them as an excuse to splurge; I might not want to spend $45 on that 750ml bottle of small-production grower’s Champagne, but somehow $30 on the half bottle feels okay. Why? I don’t really know. That’s another point to make: half-bottles are not “half” as expensive to produce, so don’t harass your wine retailer as to why the half bottle isn’t half as expensive. It’s not really like that. The cork/enclosure, seal, labels, bottle, etc. don’t cost half as much, they cost the same. So you’re really paying for the fun-ness, and that’s your call completely. But you’re not getting ripped off on the price, trust me. Maybe some retailers undercut their margins on halfsies to get them to move, and thats their prerogative. Just don’t be mean to the person selling you your wine, cause that ain’t cool. Just pick someone you like and trust them.

Thats my philosophy, anyway. Cheers!