Alan Koller, Bauhaus's Wine Director, is exploring the famed New Word pinot noirs of Oregon in his latest blog post, leading up to Uwe's upcoming Wine Club Dinner on November 20th. Alan discusses the importance of terroir, age, and ultimately the mad-scientist of the wine world - the winemaker.
Well, here we are again, more wine talk! This is going to be a slightly different post, as I am focusing on pinot noir from Willamette Valley in Oregon – more specifically, a small part of it in the North West.
Why pinot? It is my favourite red grape, and there are several reasons why. I love how well pinot showcases the terroir it grows in. Riesling does a great job of that as well, but not like pinot. Pinot Noirs are a difficult grape, but the rewards for getting it right are worth it. As pinot ages, it evolves into flavours I respond to very well. Ultimately, pinot noir intrigues me when they are young. I don’t say that about Barolo, Brunello, Bordeaux or Aussie Shiraz, they all need time to evolve into something special, but pinot tells a story from the beginning.
Now, why Oregon? Because I love Oregon Pinot! I used to travel to Seattle to visit friends quite a bit, and my two duty free bottles were always Oregon Pinot. The other reason for “why Oregon” is because outside of Burgundy, there are only a few places that really produce top-quality pinot noir. I have discussed German pinot in an earlier blog post. Russian River pinots show very well, but I find the intensity of the fruit can overwhelm the terroir. Sonoma shows a little more restraint in its fruit and does have more varied sub-regions producing solid examples of pinot noir. California can struggle with overly rich soil, which causes the fruit to be very rich. However, pinot loves to struggle. But then there is Oregon: a cooler climate than Sonoma and the Russian River, and a similar soil composition to Burgundy, albeit a touch warmer. When you start dealing with wines from one of these four regions, you really start to find some very special wines. Dundee Hill, Eola Amity Hill, Chehalem Mountain, and Yamhill Carlton - each of these regions produce utterly stunning pinot noirs and each region’s wine show a slightly different character.
If you were to do a blind tasting of the pinots of these regions, apparently these are the differences between them. Dundee Hill has a high iron content in its soil, so acidity and minerality will be more present and the palate will show raspberry and black tea flavours. Now, when you move to Eola Amity Hill you get a much different story of plum, currant, and exotic spices. Yamhill Carlton is where the fruit stand up front and makes you take notice. Black cherry and vanilla tones seem to show up a great deal. Finally, there is Chehalem Mountain, and this is where some of the more intense bold style pinots are found, displaying rich cherry, black tea, and baking spice flavours.
Now, if I lined up 4 random wines from each region and tasted them blind, would I (or you) find that these previous descriptions apply? Maybe, or maybe we would struggle because there is another factor in the production of wine that can have a very large effect on how the wine taste: the winemaker.
The winemaker – the mad scientist/artist of the wine world. I remember a few years back when Wine Spectator did a study. They took 3 winemakers and challenged them to make three wines each. The key to the challenge was that Spectator bought the grapes. Where did the grapes come from? Three different vineyards. Each winemaker was given 1.5 tonne of grapes from each vineyard. The reason why they was to see whether terroir or the winemaker has the most influence on the finished product. The answer was the winemaker. The blind tasters did find some similarities between the wines, but they found that each wine uniquely different. So, the terroir will be present, but ultimately it is how the grapes were pressed, fermented and aged that will define the wine, UNLESS the goal of the winemaker is to showcase the terroir. Learning to make a wine so it showcases its terroir is the lesson new world pinot producers are undertaking.
It was not too long ago when North American pinots were over-extracted, had their alcohol levels too high, and were over-oaked. Those styles still exist, but thankfully many wineries started taking trips to Burgundy to discover what made French Burgundy so special. Some of it was winemaking technique, and another big part of it was getting Burgundy root stock. This is why we see “Clone such-and-such” listed as the type of pinot in most of the New World’s top producers of pinot. Simply put, Burgundy vines are better at showing the lands terroir. Oregon is certainly learning the ways of Burgundy. They recognized the soil similarities and they want to show off what Oregon has to offer in terroir. Apologies for the roundabout way of getting back to the terroir but if you have ever had the pleasure of my service, you would already know I do tend to wander. Perhaps it is part of my charm?
We have arrived at the point in my blog where we go from a fun little info session to the point of the story! Wouldn’t it be fun to try some Oregon pinots from top wineries, sourced from three of these regions just to see if they are different and if they do measure up to Burgundy? Well your opportunity is on November 20th! That is the date for Uwe’s next wine club dinner. How does the wine club work? It is a bit different than your usual wine dinner. Uwe has Chefs Tim and David create a special menu that will help showcase the wines of the evening. Uwe also brings in wines just for the event. The pricing is $130 before tax and gratuity for the chef’s menu and then the wines are sold by the glass. The best part is, the wine is not priced at the usual restaurant mark-up – Uwe does a minimal markup to make sure you get to try some of the best wines we can find without charging a fortune.
If you would like to join us for this unique glimpse into the world of Oregon Pinot, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at 604-974-1147. Dinner starts at 7pm.
Bauhaus's Wine Director Alan Koller takes a trip through the history of Paso Robles and explore the Wild West attitude towards winemaking.
I want to begin by expressing my thoughts and prayers for everyone in Napa and Sonoma right now. We experienced our own brutal forest fires in BC this year, and unfortunately Napa and Sonoma currently find themselves in the middle of a collection of horrible fire storms. Hopefully Mother Nature will be kind and allow for the fire fighters to gain control over these fires.
Now, this blog is going to focus on a region south of Napa and Sonoma, called Paso Robles. When it comes to the history of a wine region, Paso Robles has an interesting history. Paso Robles has been growing grapes since 1797. At that point it was the Spanish Conquistadors and Franciscan Monks that were the first to plant grapes in this region. Again, like many regions we have to thank religion for establishing an industry, but maybe that will be its own blog post one day. So the monks were making wine, but there was a fun twist to the story that set up the commercial history of the area. Frank and Jesse James’s uncle, Drury James, was the man behind the foundation of the town of Paso Robles. The driving reason behind the town was the abundance of hot springs. Those hot springs were the key. Travellers on the El Camino Real trail would stop there to refresh in the mineral springs before head north to San Francisco. Of course, when you have a place that attracts people, some don’t leave. People began to recognize opportunity, and they took advantage. Paso Robles slowly became a productive agricultural area, with apple orchards, olive trees, and almonds being planted alongside the grapes.
Despite the monks were growing grapes for almost 100 years, it was in the 1880s that commercial wine production began. The York family created the Ascension winery, but like the rest of the US, Prohibition came and stalled the wine business. However, during Prohibition, a man named Ignace Paderewski came to the famed hot springs and loved the region so much that he bought 2000 acres of land. He planted Zinfandel and Petite Syrah. Of course, because of Prohibition he could not make wine, but he could grow grapes. As a result, he had a head start when Prohibition finally ended. Working together with York Mountain Winery, named Ascension, Paderewski started producing wine, and it was these wines that put Paso Robles on the map. Because of his fame as a composer, he had an in with the elite of the eastern United States. It is similar to an infamous film director opening up a restaurant – there is a lot of power in cross over marketing. For some reason, Paderewski never established a winery, he just kept producing under York Mountain. Of course, with 2000 acres they had a lot of grapes available, so they started selling to other wineries. In 2004, York Mountain Vineyards was re-established under the name Epoch. In the end, the original Paderewski vineyards are still active and continue to provide grapes for some of the best wineries in the region.
The history is important for another reason in Paso Robles. The history sets the tone for the attitude of the wine makers. There were no rules, they played with lots of grape varietals and were not afraid to blend them. What were they growing? Well there are your classic Bordeaux blending grapes, they grow all of them. Of course, they grew Zinfandel. Oh, and a bunch of Italian showed up and planted, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Barbera. They also grow the main Rhone blending grapes, Syrah, Mouverdre, Grenache, and Viognier. Other winemakers got bored and started growing some of the popular grapes from Spain and Portugal. Paso Robles has been considered the Wild West of wines, and it’s easy to see why. Syrah/Zinfandel blends, Zinfandel/Cabernet blends, Cabernet/Petite Syrah blends, and Zinfandel/Petit Syrah blends. Basically, wine makers would blend pretty much anything just to create something unique. It has been argued that Paso Robles is the wild west of wine. And who am I to argue with that!
If you think that all of this history would create market demand, you would be mistaken. Paso Robles wines have more of a cult following than mainstream success. In Vancouver, access is limited, and while there are a few cheaper ones around, the quality wines from Epoch, Saxum, and L’Aventure are very hard to find. But if you do, they are worth the money.
But here is the good news: we have one at Bauhaus! Yes, of course we do, there wouldn’t be much point to this blog if we didn’t. We have the L’Aventure Optimus red blend. The 2013 Optimus is a blend of 48% Syrah, 30% Cab and 22% Petit Verdot. The wine starts off with a rush of dark ripe fruit and as the wine sits on your palate, the wonderful chocolate, tobacco and baking spices create a beautiful complexity, and finally the firm acidity with gentle tannins finish the wine perfectly. A beautiful wine with a long palate. Any time you have a wine with the richness of the fruit, lingering tannins with a long complex finish, you need a dish that will be big and bold. That is where our new 30 day dry aged Cache Creek striploin comes in. Not much of a stretch to pair it with a steak but it is the sides that make the wine perfect. Brussel sprouts roasted and puréed, piave of potato with Roquefort cheese and a green peppercorn sauce. All these rich bold flavours need a wine that can show off its own collection of complex flavours. The Optimus does not disappoint! Come by and try this unique wine and let me know if you think Paso Robles is the Wild West of wines.
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