Seattle Wine Blog

This blog is dedicated to commentary on all aspects of wine, especially short entries to help you find the best wines without the usual hype and spin. These are my frank, independent opinions, usually based on tasting wine at a public event, off the shelf or at the winery. "All creative acts must arise out of a specific soil and flicker with a spirit of place" -D.H. Lawrence

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Gorge

Worried about the economy? Don't gorge out, visit the Gorge and relax! The Columbia Gorge AVA is one of several bi-state wine regions on the Oregon/Washington border. Just as there is a tendency to think of the Walla Walla AVA as being in Washington even though some of the best vineyards are in Oregon, there is a similar tendency with the Columbia Gorge except for its proximity to Portland, Oregon. The Gorge is AVA number nine in Washington (followed by numbers ten - Snipes, and eleven - Chelan). The Columbia Gorge AVA stretches some forty miles along the windy Columbia River From White Salmon to Biggs. The wineries are mostly concentrated around Lyle in Washington and around Hood River in Oregon. Driving along I-84 from Portland, you might not even guess that this is a wine region except for an occasional winery sign. The vineyards are most hidden away with the exception of the well established, pioneering Celilo Vineyard. Frankly, the Gorge reminds me of the Yakima Valley in the 1970s. A few wineries clustered in small towns, hidden vineyards, lots of orchids. Orchids are a good sign. Since grapes are fruit, if you can grow other fruit, you usually can grow grapes and you know there is enough water. Bob Morus at Phelps Creek winery tells me that for every mile that you go east through the gorge the rainfall diminishes by one inch. The gorge is an amazing transitional zone from the moist climate of the Cascade Mountains to the dry heat of the desert. You can grow Pinot Noir in Hood River and Zinfandel in the Dalles

The quickest and easiest tour would be from Portland to Hood River. There we visited Cathedral Ridge, Pheasant Valley and Phelps. Naked winery's claim to fame is hot, sexy, fun names like Virgin and Sugar Daddy. Their Chardonnay is pretty good. At Cathedral Ridge Jessica did a great job of serving up the wines. We found most of the wines to be too light in style for our taste. The 2007 Riesling however was classic with just the right balance of acidity and sweetness and a wonderful nose of peaches and flowers. The 2007 Huber Pinot Noir tasted of cherry vanilla pudding but was too tart for my taste. The 2007 Necessity Red is an interesting experiment - a blend of Pinot Noir and Zin. The '06 Syrah was worthy and but the flagship 2006 Rock Star Red was the standout with a great nose and smooth fruit muddled with spices. Pheasant Valley Winery was next in line. We liked the McDuffee Chardonnay and the 2006 Syrah. We found the Tempranillo to be a bit rough and the 2007 Estate Organic Pinot Noir too acidic. Of the three Pinot offerings, we preferred the 2008 Estate Organic Pinot Noir which was fairly light with good cherry flavors. It would be fun to taste this with Pheasant Montmorency.

When we got to Phelps Creek I didn't recognize Bob Morus because he wasn't wearing his hat. I met Bob at Debuts and Discoveries in Seattle last year and asked him how come an Oregon winery was debuting in Seattle. He said he wanted to familiarize Seattle wine drinkers with his wine. Unfortunately for me he had only brought his second line which is quite good, but I didn't get to taste the Phelps Creek. Now finally I got to taste Phelps Creek. Bob took us on a tour of his vineyards which are hidden away up the hill from the tasting room. Talk about "slopes" - rolling hills with near southern exposure and a view of Mount Hood. The truck picked up an arrow shaped piece of gravel and we limped back to the tasting room where we tasted an amazing array of wines. Tom had tasted us on the 2008 "Unoaked" Columbia Gorge Chardonnay - whistle clean, fresh and light, truly a delight from Celilo and Jewitt Creek vineyards. The 2007 Estate Reserve Chardonnay was equally beautiful in a yeasty way. If the Unoaked was a pale blond , then the Reserve was a light brunette. As many of you know, I am not too fond of Riesling and Gewurz, but the 2008 Gewurz was perfect - "OMG, WOW, typical with just the right balance of sugar and acid." The 2007 Celilo Dry Rose was made from Merlot, but dry enough to almost pass as a European model. But wait, there's more!

Move over Willamette Valley! Pinot Noir from the East side of the Cascades! Once you've tasted "Le Petit" Pinot Noir Columbia Gorge 2008, you will never want to drink French Beaujolais again. This baby is made from Pinot rather than the Gamay that is traditional in Beaujolais. The traditional carbonic maceration of 69% of the Pinot grapes produced the most beautiful wine to have with salmon. "Ey, va-va-va-voom" - Light pie cherry, cranberry and strawberry - very fruity light, round and soft - a great quaff! Now on to the bigger guys and gals. "Becky's Cuvee" 2007 is still fairly light with a walnut or Hazel nose. A well known psychoanalyst once sagely said, " A man is a man and 'v'oman is a 'v'oman." Winemaker Peter Rosback made Judith's Cuvee Pinot and Cuvee Alexandrine was made by French winemaker Alexandrine Roy. Boy, are these wines different! The difference between a man and a "v"'v'oman? Not at all! The difference between France and the U.S. Using Oregon grapes Alexandrine managed to make a Pinot that tastes more like a Bourgogne than an Oregon Pinot Noir. With the exception of Richebourg and a few other Burgundies, I almost always prefer Oregon Pinot Noir. My winner? Judith's Cuvee. Altogether an interesting experiment. Phelp is the standout winery on the Oregon side of the river - proof that outstanding wine can be made in the Gorge. Tune in next week for the Washington side of the Gorge.


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