So, wine tasting today!

There you go. I told you why I’m doing this. Now it’s time to get into the nitty gritty of actually writing (oh gosh, this already feels like work!) about my wine experiences.

Today I went wine tasting in Dundee (Oregon) with Sky (with whom I am living) and her friend Michele, who is a retired-at-50 former Disney-exec who has a lot of money and knows a lot about wine. She is, therefore, the perfect person to go tasting with. She and Sky were really fun, because they were opposite ends of the spectrum re: wine – Michele knows a lot about wine, and was fun to be with as she quizzed us and told us about her own experiences tasting; Sky has a good palate, knows a lot about food and flavors after almost 50 years of eating delicious food and cooking her own, and knows very little about wine itself. She was funny because of how reluctant she was to get dragged into tasting, but she clearly got into it as we went along. She’s opinionated and smart, and it was fun to listen to her comments as we tasted through all the wines.

We left at 9 AM this morning (God, Michele, couldn’t have let me sleep in on one of my TWO days off in the last week?) and it was roughly a 2 hour drive up to Dundee. The countryside was beautiful, though a bit wet – it rained for a lot of the day. We started tasting at Archery Summit, where Michele has a membership, so I didn’t even have to vet my industry membership or show off my calling card from Chris Mazepink, the winemaker at Benton-Lane. We had a free tasting there, and we tasted through five Pinot Noirs. The first one we tasted was their 2007 Premier Cuvee, a blend of all of their different vineyards, was the least expensive of all of them at a meager $48 (haha), but was still my 2nd favorite of the five. (Now I wish I had taken tasting notes:) It had a smooth finish, was not too full in comparison with their other Pinots, and had excellently balanced flavors of cherry, rose, and chocolate – none of which overpowered any of the others. The winemaker’s tasting notes listed at least ten different flavors, of which I was only able to pick out three (the ones listed above), so I was awed at her knowledge and tasting ability. I aspire to that.

The one I recommend most highly from Archery, however, was far too expensive for me – hence why I returned without one of their bottles. The Arcus Estate 2007 is not available for purchase online, but was without a doubt the finest product of theirs that we tasted today. At something like $98/bottle, it was clear that this was one of their most prized wines. I think once wines reach a certain level of smooth and rich taste, they merit the description of “graceful” (and I mean that in the sense that a ballerina or a cat is graceful) and this one had certainly met that standard. It was incredibly smooth to taste, and though I laughed at Sky initially when she described it as “fresh like the forest floor”, that was exactly how the tasting notes described it, and exactly the sort of expression it had.

Some things I learned about their production methods (though I’m sure you could find all this on their website): they use exclusively yeasts found on the grape skins in fermentation, meaning they don’t inoculate or add any additional yeasts to the product. This is a very old-world (that is, European) ideology: many traditional winemakers believe that the yeasts found on the grape skins are a natural part of the terroir, and ought to be allowed to express themselves through the fermentation process. Many new-world wineries use their own, hand-picked yeasts, instead of allowing nature to do it for them – that gives them more control over the outcome, though some European producers might say that this is “cheating”, because it destroys a fundamental part of the terroir of the wine. Additionally, they keep their pinots in barrel for up to twenty months, and oh my god, they have an ENORMOUS cave for barrel storage. And… that’s all I remember about Archery.

Next stop: Domaine Drouhin. Chris (from B-L) had told me that Domaine Drouhin and Archery Summit were the perfect places in Dundee to taste, because they offered Pinot Noir made at completely opposite ends of the spectrum, and so provided a great way to compare big Pinot vs. more delicate French-style Pinot. (Big Pinot = Archery; French Pinot = Drouhin) At Drouhin we tasted three wines: their Arthur Chardonnay, Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, and Laurene Pinot Noir. Damn! Their Chardonnay was so good! No but seriously, you guys, I bought a bottle of it because I was just so completely overwhelmed by how delicious it was. Scrumptious. It was like honey, anything honey you can name – bees’ honey, honeysuckle, honeydew melon, honey honey honey… But somehow, it managed to avoid the problem that some chardonnays have of being overly sweet. It was sufficiently dry that it didn’t present a dessert-wine feel; instead, it was simply light, refreshing, and incredibly succulent. It reminded me of sitting on the fence post in Pennsylvania as a child and eating the nectar from honeysuckle for hours after school. At $30 ($25 after the members-privileges price reduction), this bottle was practically a steal. (Though my bank account might disagree.)

The two Pinots were nice – the Laurene especially so. It was definitely much softer and more refined than the Archery Summit wines, although it still packed an impressive floral and fresh fruit flavor that caught my attention. I’m not quite sure whether I preferred the bigger, more distinctive Archery wines, or the more-balanced elegance of the Drouhin. If I were going to get a special-occasion bottle of Pinot, though, it would definitely have to be the Arcus Estate from Archery Summit.

At Drouhin, I was informed that they also use primarily yeasts from the skins of the grapes, though they do occasionally inoculate – probably to avoid some of the risks of leaving grapes in maceration for too long if fermentation isn’t going. They barrel some of their chardonnay, probably to bring it to a soft edge, but at least half of it is left in stainless-steel tanks, maintaining a crispness and fresh, light taste that is so characteristic of Chardonnay. Mmm mmm mmm. I can’t wait to crack that bottle.

Third: White Rose! It was just down the street and quite accessible, so we decided to stop in briefly for a quick tasting. Here was the first place I actually had to tout my industry cred, but it actually worked! They checked my ID and the business card Chris had given me, and then comped our tasting! Woo! Wow, what a great feeling that was – being able to use MY credentials to get Sky and Michele free tastings as well… It was so… legitimate.

Anyway. In all honesty, I wasn’t too terribly impressed with White Rose’s Pinots, though I WAS impressed with their landscaping. Their vineyards were gorgeous, although I guess that just goes to show that beautiful vineyards don’t necessarily make for the best wine. Not that their Pinots were bad – not by any stretch of the imagination. But they barely compared to Archery Summit or Domaine Drouhin, so I think my perspective had been a little skewed. If I bought White Rose in a grocery store, I probably would have enjoyed it much more. But as it was, their wines didn’t quite merit the comparison.

We went to lunch afterwards, and then headed to Argyle Winery – Chris had mentioned that they “make the best sparkling wine in North America”, and so we decided we absolutely had to try it. He wasn’t wrong. Not that I’ve had a lot of American sparkling wine (though I’m certainly interested in trying more) but their sparkling wine was fantastic. I think sparkling wine occupies this weird position in the American wine consumer’s mentality – a lot of people don’t precisely consider it “wine” in the same way that red wine or white wine is, probably because it’s carbonated, so it feels a little like it’s a whole different beverage. It also is generally associated with two things: New Years’ Eve, and spending a lot of money. Neither of these things are incorrect, but they do certainly limit sparkling wine’s place in the average consumer’s consumption habits, and I think it deserves a more expansive place in the alcoholic beverage market.

Anyway, Argyle. Drink it. Their Argyle Brut is definitely the right price, and can apparently be found in many different grocery stores across America, and probably in a ton of wine shops, and it was really spectacular. Very friendly and approachable, with light pear and citrus fruit flavors, and a little vanilla spice in there too. Their 2000 Extended Tirage, a 10-year old barrel-aged sparkling, was absurdly charismatic, with beautiful mineral tones and some delicious exotic fruit notes – papaya or mango, perhaps?

Finally – for me, the kicker – was their dessert wine, called “Minus Five“, an eiswein (ice wine) that was so perfectly sweet and fresh that I had to snag a bottle. My parents hate sweet wines, so I grew up typically avoiding them, but I’ve learned a new respect for them in some excellent Reislings, Gewürztraminers, and most especially, eiswein, where I seriously think dessert wine achieves perfection. “Minus Five” was almost more honey-like than the Domaine Drouhin Chardonnay, but that was mostly because of its ever-so-slightly thicker consistency and perfectly golden color (one of the few instances where I really believe you could taste the color). Fantastically rich with pear and some very slight peppery-notes, I was entranced. Twenty-two dollars later, I was able to pack up and go home happily.

That was the end of our sweet little girls-day wine-tasting in Dundee, and I slept for a good part of the way home, while Sky and Michele chatted happily about furniture, cooking, and career plans.

So there you go. My first real wine-blog entry. Let’s see how many follow this one!