Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Focus

I've gotten back into reading through the various wine blogs that I've been neglecting the past year, and I'm noticing a trend that many of them focus on reviewing wines. Now there's nothing wrong with that at all. In fact, I think there is a huge opportunity for blogs of that nature to provide feedback to wineries and consumers from perspectives different from the Spectator, Advocate, and Enthusiast.

I'd like to take this blog in a different direction. I want to focus more on the experiences of being a wine drinker, especially from the perspective of a pair of 20-somethings. I think this can be a place to share our observations and thoughts about wine and the wine lifestyle. There will probably be a review of wine here and there, but overall the voice of this blog will be a bit different from the typical wine blog. I also want to discuss topics and news about the wine industry in the Willamette Valley, and what I feel the impact will be. I haven't found much of that perspective around the web, so I hope to try and fill that need.

Monday, December 21, 2009

2009 - A Review

As this year is coming to an end, I'm finding myself reflecting on what has happened over the year, but also the things that didn't happen. I didn't find the time to blog like I had hoped, even though I think about blogging at least once a day. We've had some really great experiences, but I sometimes wonder how much more we could've done with our year. Looking back at the year, here are the standout events for me.

March was a great month for two reasons, the NCAA tournament, and the Boise Co-Op. For the second year in a row, Portland State made it into the NCAA tournament, and this time was playing in Boise. Now, how often will I get to watch the Vikings play in the NCAA tourney within driving distance of home? Probably not in the near future, so we took the opportunity to watch them play in Boise. While there, we visited with some friends of ours, who introduced us to the Boise Co-Op wine shop. The Co-Op is like nirvana for wine geeks. They have one of the best selections of wine we've seen, but that's not what makes the shop so great. They have an entire room that is temperature controlled which houses some pretty amazing stuff. I think we spent 45 minutes in there just geeking out on the wine that was there. We ended up getting a 6-pack of various stuff while we were there (thanks to recommendations), but sometimes I wish they opened up one in Portland.

In May, we hosted our first double blind tasting. Well, it was double blind for everybody but Sirpa and I, as we had picked the wines. For us, it was just a single blind tasting, as I bagged up the wines when nobody else was looking, and by the time we poured them, I had forgotten which was which. It was really enlightening to experience a wine without knowing what the producer was. The weekend with good friends and good wines was definitely a highlight of the year.

Early in November, we went to a party in celebration of some friends visiting town (the same friends that introducted us to the Co-Op). Now, I had heard some things about the parties that were hosted by the person that was hosting this one, and basically, they were usually a big group of wine geeks geeking out over wine all night, with plenty of juice flowing all night long. Turns out, that's exactly what it was. What started as a sampling of vintages from 1993-1999 of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir added a blind tasting between '05 California, Oregon, and Burgandy Pinot Noirs, as well as some bigger reds and some ridiculous desert stuff. '60 Port? '52 Madiera? Check and check. A really amazing night with some awesome people, I couldn't have asked for more.

I think I'm finding that while going out tasting and exploring with Sirpa is fun and enjoyable, being able to share our findings with friends as well as experience other new things with them is the most enjoyable aspect of wine. Sure, the flavors are usually delicious, and a responsible buzz from time to time isn't a horrible thing, but the shared experience of friends and wine is the best.

To the friends we've shared amazing experiences with, and to the friends we haven't seen enough, cheers to you!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Blind Tasting of '05 Cuvees

During the weekend trip to the lakehouse, I decided to put together a double blind tasting for everybody. I wanted to find 4 wines that had similar characteristics that could be compared. The wines that we chose were:

A) '05 Archery Summit Winery Premier Cuvee
B) '05 Cristom Mt. Jeffersom Cuvee
C) '05 Sokol Blosser Estate Cuvee
D) '05 Lachini Estate

Each of the wines were 2005 vintage Pinot Noirs, with three of the four being cuvees. it was really interesting to see how differently the 6 people ranked the wines differently.


No clear winner (or best) of the night. All the wines scored the same (giving 4 points for 1st, 3 for 2nd, 2 for 3rd, 1 for 4th), with the exception of the Cristom. That one had a funk to it that turned many of the tasters off (as shown with the 3 4th-place votes). The interesting thing is that no two people ranked the wines the same way, and that the one that a few people didn't like as much (Cristom), it was still ranked as both 1st and 2nd by two of the tasters.

Being able to taste these wines in this way was really insightful, as it eliminated any bias or preconceived notions the taster's might've had, and let the wines speak for themselves. The success of this tasting has be planning other blinds tastings already.

Some of the tasting notes written down during the tasting:
Lachini: red fruit, bits of blackberry, hints of charcoal, good mouthfeel, decent finish, earthy, smokey
SB: red fruit, hints of pepper, short & flat finish, light on palate, dies
ASW: the most tannic of the wines, almost chewy, fruit was hidden behind the level of tannins, would like to see this wine in another 8 years.
Cristom: A funk that turned a few off, but was interesting to others, good mouthfeel and balance

Wine filled weekend with friends

I've found out that drinking wine with friends is the best way to go. Especially when the friends you're drinking wine with are as passionate about it as you are. Spending the weekend at a lakehouse with said friends is just the icing on the cake.

We invited 4 friends of ours up to the lakehouse with us to spend the weekend relaxing and enjoying some wine. It was just the kind of weekend that many of us needed (getting away and just relaxing). Lots of laughs and lots of good wines drank. The only disappointments were 2 bottles of Broadley ('05 Bergstrom and '05 Claudia's Choice) that we picked up a couple weeks ago at their spring barrel tasting that were cooked.

The wines we drank over the course of the weekend in no particular order:
'06 Kosta Browne Keiffer Ranch Pinot Noir
NV Bugey Cerdon sparking rose
'07 Trisaetum Riesling
'04 Domain Droughin Oregon Artur Chardonney
'06 Sojourn Cellars Pinot Noir
'06 JK Carriere Antoinnette Pinot Noir
'06 Gary Farrel Pinot Noir
'06 King Estate Domaine Pinot Noir
'05 NxNW Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley
'04 Ayoub Pinot Noir
'08 Cinder Rose
'79 Pedro Jimenez
'05 Jessep Zin Port
NV Yolumba Antique Tawney
'06 Argyle LH Riesling -5

We also conducted a double blind tasting, which I will cover in another post.

It was really nice to be able to taste a bunch of good wines with friends who enjoyed them as much as we did, which doesn't happen as often as we might like. Hearing what others think about the wine you're drinking can be very insightful, and should be something that every wine drinker does from time to time.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Are Tasting Fees Acceptable?

I originally started this post in 2007, but never quite finished it. A recent post here and here made me think about the topic once again. Over the past year, my feelings have shifted a bit, but not dramatically. In 2007, I had a different frame of reference for tasting fees, wine prices, and what "good" wine really meant. Looking at the notes I had started for this post, I see that I expected more tastes for my money then, but the general principles are still the same.

Some of the shift in perspective has been because in the past 2 years, I've been exposed on numerous occasions to wines that previously would have been out of my range ($50+), and my palatte has shifted a bit to be able to appreciate these. In 2007, spending $40 on a wine was a rare occassion, and now I find myself being a club member of a couple places that only sell $40+ wine.

I'm comfortable paying a $5-$10 tasting fee, assuming that there are enough wines. I'm not willing to pay $10 for 3 tastes, unless the wines justify it (relatively expensive bottles with good reviews or word of mouth). For $5, I would expect to taste 3-5 wines. For $10, I'm expecting 6-7 wines. Getting a tasting fee refunded with purchases basically means I'm going to buy a bottle of wine (unless they are all crap), but there is no way I'm going to expect a "refunded with purchase" policy as a standard.

The two major sides to the argument about tasting fees speak to a tasting room covering costs (and keeping out the free-drinkers), and getting your wine into potential customer's hands. From the tasting room perspective, I doubt the $5-$10 is covering all the costs of wine, glassware, staff, electricity, etc. that is being consumed in the tasting room, so it can't all be about covering costs. Keeping out the free-drinkers is a valid reason, because those people don't care a bit about your wine, they just want a free buzz. Mostly, the tasting room is just looking to recoup some of their costs, while providing an opportunity to get their wine in front of the consumer.

Frankly, and this might sound harsh, if you can't afford a $5-$10 tasting fee for each of the 4-5 places you might stop in a day, then maybe you should find something else to do (or you could always share tastes with someone). Being in a tasting room is about more than just "trying before buying." You learn about the history and story of the winery and winemaker, about their philosophy towards wine, and get a better perspective of the fermented juice that you're drinking.

Sometimes, you might even get a history lesson about where the grapes were grown (I've gotten this before, while tasting at Tyrus Evan, and learned all I'd ever want to know about the Walla Walla area and the geological events that caused it to be what it is). If that itself isn't worth the admission fee, you get to try some wines you might not have access to otherwise.

Expecting to try wines for free seems to be an expectation held over from when the Oregon wine industry was in its infancy and trying to establish itself. In the '80s, Oregon didn't have the brand reputation it has now, and so it had to try and show that there was decent wine coming from here. With the quality of wine coming out of the area, paying $5-$10 to try something new seems fully within reason. I don't want the Willamette Valley to become the next Napa, with extrordinate tasting fees everywhere, but a few bucks here and there really shouldn't stop someone from experiencing what Oregon has to offer.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Return?

I can't believe its been over a year since the last post. A lot has happened, and some things have changed in our lives which has made blogging a low priority. Sirpa and I both have new jobs, which means I can't spend all day at work surfing the net and blogging. There's still the desire to put my thoughts down in this blog, so I'm going to try and post at least once a week going forward. We have definitely been through some situations that would be great story telling, and would help the message of this blog. In many of these encounters, Sirpa and I end up being the "gurus" of wine with the people we are with, which is an interesting thing when you consider that both of us are under 30.

To 2009, the year of great experiences and more blogging!