Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Vietti - Arneis and Barbera

I admit to being very particular about Italian wines. A quick peek at my posts clearly shows a lack of raves. It's not that I don't like the wines, I just like others more. Too often I taste and realize for the same price, or less, wines I enjoy more are readily available.

The region of Piedmont is a notable exception. I love the wines. But they do not come cheap. Many of the affordable options lack depth, intensity and balance leading me back to my earlier statement. Vietti represents top-notch quality while charging a reasonable price.

Vietti Roero Arneis 2009 - The wine has happily danced across my palate before, but has never riveted me so intently as this vintage did recently. Maybe there's a kinship since Vietti first made it in my birth year, 1967. Maybe I silently pine to be the age of the vines again, 25. Whatever the subtext, this wine should be part of your spring and summer fun. Aged on its lees for three months in stainless steel, there is no malolactic fermentation. The juicy entry offers crisp melon and hints of stone fruit. It nearly explodes on the palate and the flavors continue on the finish. I kept shaking my head and muttering, "Lovely, lovely...lovely." Where the hell were the shrimp? Fantastic, somewhat surprising weight and while it's a bit more expensive than I might want in a perfect world, it is THE BEST ARNEIS I have ever tasted. Yes, I mean that. I think I could eat my weight in prosciutto wrapped melon or grilled fish (white, flaky) with a mango salsa. Salty snacks will work wonders as well. $19-$22. (Imported by Dalla Terra)

Vietti Barbera d'Asti Tre Vigne 2008 - Consistently one of my favorite Barberas, this comes from three vineyards, hence the name. This was the best wine of a busy day of tasting. Floral notes and strawberry dominate the nose, as one expects from Barbera, especially from d'Asti (d'Alba tends to be darker and deeper). Those descriptors don't do the wine justice though and before I hear the MEN(!) reading this flip somewhere else, I will say that the wine is more manly than they imply. The freshness does not step all over a more base note below, some earth tone lingers beneath growing in volume on the palate and finding impeccable balance with the fruit on the finish. I do not use the word impeccable lightly, it is rare to find a wine that speaks so eloquently from both ends of the flavor spectrum. It is pretty but solid at the same time. It is dry and very Italian but still offers enough fruit that drinking it on its own doesn't hurt. I want grilled tuna with olives or pork and mushrooms or a large hunk of an aged cow or goat milk cheese. It makes me want a bottle to myself and prompts me to consider telling everyone how good it is. I recommend opening the wine and pouring half glasses to let it breathe; then settle in and enjoy the journey. $18-$20 (Imported by Dalla Terra)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Elk Cove and Chehalem Pinot Noirs

I addressed their Pinot Gris recently and following through on the Pinot Noirs completes the circle and makes my mouth happy.

I'll offer one extra wine here, a bonus because it may save you money, or a throwaway if you have some already. Willamette Valley Vineyards produces some good white wines. Pinot Gris has some weight to it and remains dry without being tart while the Riesling, one of the top selling wines in all of Oregon, makes good porch wine or a refreshing foil for spicy food. However, their reds have always disappointed. I don't expect Pinot Noir to be muscular but it should still have some substance. In an exciting vintage like 2008 to produce a thin wine that mostly left me focused on what was missing rather than what was there prompts me to move on from their reds. Granted, this was the entry level Pinot Noir but I'm done. I love their Whole Cluster Pinot Noir, a nod to Nouveau but with some sensibility, but find it too expensive for the style.

Elk Cove Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley 2008 - I remain a fan of the winery and this wine usually offers depth and intrigue exceeding the price. The 2008 is deep, as expected, but a tad inelegant. I find black cherry on the nose but the palate is closed and even a bit spritzy. The final impression is more driven by aroma than flavor or texture. This style is uncharacteristic of the winery and I was left a bit disappointed. Based on their stellar track record, I should try this again. $25-27

Chehalem 3 Vineyard Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley 2008 - Sourced from three estate vineyards, Ridgecrest, Stoller and Corral Creek, this wine impresses much more often than it doesn't. All French oak, 22% new keeps things in balance. The hallmark of Chehalem for me, in particular this bottling, is the purity of the fruit. 2008 offers that and more. The nose is nearly a distillation of cherry without seeming manipulated in the least. A hint of slightly earthy forest floor lingers around the edges and stamps this wine as pure Willamette Valley. The earth tone borders on funk on the palate, but it is gorgeous Pinot Noir funk, not stinky barnyard stuff. the wine is lively in the mouth, fairly dancing down the tongue and leaves a structured and spicy finish. I'm hard pressed to recall a Pinot Noir I have enjoyed more in its youth that also shows the elements necessary for another five years or so of welcomed evolution. Top notch! $26-28

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Natural Wine

Anyone who pays attention to the food they eat knows the suspect nature of the word natural. It does not allow artificial ingredients, but the food can be augmented. Natural means to me the item in its pure form, in all of its glory, or lack thereof. Natural wine should mean the same. It does not. A recent post from Alice Feiring prompted me to address this issue here. I have resisted because it is a massive, and massively confusing, topic that can cause eyes to glaze and move on. She has wording posted (http://www.alicefeiring.com/blog/2011/04/part-of-the-problem-with-the-world-natural-wine.html). Even the writing is unnatural. Ask most people on the street about what natural wine means to them and I'm sure it wouldn't involve sugar or concentrated fruit juice. An article by Kerry Newberry in Oregon Wine Press (August 2009) titled 'What is Natural Wine?' offered a number of possibilities but admitted it was a bit of a moving target. She cited Artisan & Vine, a London wine bar focused on natural wines that defined them as, "wines made using organic or biodynamic, low-yielding vineyards; minimal or no added sulphites and indigenous yeasts." That doesn't jibe with the gibberish cited by Ms. Feiring. But, as I said, people paying attention know that natural is not the most stringent of designations. Take a quick look at USDA organic certifications for food. "100% organic" speaks clearly. "Organic" requires 95% of ingredients to be organic. "Made with Organic Ingredients" only requires 70% to be organic. Confusing? Damn right. Now try bringing the same basic issues to the world of wine; a topic that perplexes and overwhelms already. On a shelf in a grocery store in Oregon a few years ago I counted 15 different certifiers on about 40 bottles. Good luck keeping up with all of their fine print. More on this subject to come, I promise.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Pinot Gris...not Grigio

Same grape. Maybe I've got a bridge to sell you too. They're the same, but so is the chicken I can get in fast food joints and the sublime delicacy Anne Kearney used to put on my plate at Peristyle. They're the same but they have nothing in common. Consume the former out of convenience, maybe because you have a taste for it. The latter makes me want to get into a car now so I could be in Dayton, Ohio and eating Anne's amazing chicken tomorrow night at Rue Dumaine. I'm salivating now just thinking about it. Okay, so no Pinot Gris ever made me want to leap into a car to drive 2,000 miles, but you get the point. Good Gris makes my mouth water too. Chehalem 3 Vineyard Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley 2009 - It comes from three estate vineyards on three different soil types and is vinified and aged in stainless steel. Amazing fullness in the mouth and intense, mouthwatering juiciness surprise when compared to the dry finish. Opulent fruit (ripe melons with plenty of acid) leads on the nose and continues on the palate. As the finish nears minerality kicks in, tingling the tastebuds and making mine come alive and crave seafood, especially crab and shrimp but it could handle heavier foods. Fried green tomatoes with a creamy shrimp remoulade seems to be a perfect match. The last direct impression is dryness, maybe a bit talcy even, and then a wave of juice re-emerges to wet, and whet, the palate again. $17-$19.

Elk Cove Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley 2009 - Despite my being a huge fan of this winery and having represented them for many years in the wholesale business, I rarely find this wine to my taste. They feature too much sweetness for my palate. Not so this year. I would drink the wine just about every year, but found it a simple quaff. Not quite a throwaway but also not worthy of much thought. Also stainless produced, this vintage has some of the same exotic, nearly sweet, fruit I expect but there it changes. Acidity more than balances out the thick, rich fruit and while it does not have the crunchy minerality of Chehalem I would love this wine with a seafood boil, some smoked salmon or just hanging out by the pool. $17-$19.

More on both wineries shortly...

Friday, April 1, 2011

No Post...well, almost

In an effort to avoid silly lines like, 'no foolin' I am posting nothing of value here today.  I will confess to having used that trite line in an earlier e-mail to family, sorry brothers and wives.  It seems like we need disclaimers on anything sent out on April 1st in order to verify the information is accurate.
I just got suckered by another blog, claiming scientists could predict the harvest for 2011 now. The concept is just weird enough to be true and since it focused on Bordeaux, the land of bizarre hype and insane futures sales, it appeared plausible.  Clearly the goal of the blogger.  I don't find much amusement in making people look like fools so I'll spare you.  Invest your energy elsewhere today, you may need to in order to fend off others acting like small children.