7 DEADLY ZINS
Ripe and sinful, the 7 Deadly Zins was an inspired, exotic partner for tonight's main event of Korean steak with sweet potato noodles. By adding a dollop of Petit Verdot, the Phillips Brothers have created a seductive California Zinfandel with match appeal to a wide arrange of dishes from burgers to biryani. 88.
*Wine ratings out of 100*
Way back when the Willamette Valley in Oregon was in its vinous infancy, Bill Blosser and Susan Sokol began their farming life by acquiring an abandoned prune orchard and planting their first cuttings of Pinot Noir.
Lucy and I were fortunate enough on our second day of the International Pinot Noir Celebration to visit the Sokol Blosser winery and experience the stunning scenery that welcomed those neophyte farmers more than 40 years ago, followed by an outstanding lunch in the cool cellars.
Our aperitif was a personal tour of the vineyards and winery by their son Alex, who is now co-president of the operation, along with his sister Alison. Since Bill and Susan planted those first vines, other wineries have grown up all around and we found ourselves surrounded by vineyard vistas.
Over lunch we were introduced to a number of winemakers: Thibault Liger-Belair from Burgundy, Josh Bergstrom from his family's estate winery down the road, and Peter Rosbach from Sineann Winery in the Chahalem Mountains close by.
Even those of us with limited Pinot knowledge took a mini-course with these experts in the differing approaches to viticulture and winemaking. Of course there is the terroir, but the age of the vines, the concentration, the clones selected and the ripeness of the grapes when picked are just some of the other important aspects of viticulture. After crushing, the techniques and personality of the winemaker take over to guide the metamorphosis from fruit to final product.
Alex Blosser in his vineyard
Alex laughed at the oft-repeated representation of non-interventionist winemaking, noting that even in the most organic of wineries, over 3,000 decisions still must be made. He described some of the methods used at Sokol Blosser: the Pinot pressing is gentle and during fermentation the must is not cooled. When complete, the wines from separate blocks go into separate barrels and stored until final blending and bottling. Now, onto the wines...
The first Pinot served at lunch was naturally the 2008 Sokol Blosser -- a juicy, fruit-forward wine with good balance, but lacked concentration compared to the rest. It showed some age yet a very good drink. 89
Our other three winemakers then introduced their Pinots:
The 2010 Lancellotti is one of five single-vineyard wines made by Bergstrom. While the grapes were harvested late and Josh was worried about ripening, they got lucky -- wines harvested the first week of November produced low alcohol, juicy wines with high natural acidity. After a chance to taste, we had to agree. This was an excellent wine, juicy and intense, which we devoured with our excellent lunch. 92
Thibault's Première’s Cru Pommard was next. His operation includes 95 acres in five villages in the Cote de Beaune, planted mostly to Pinot. The grapes for this wine come from a Premiere Cru vineyard and were planted by his grandfather in 1955. They started picking in late September and the resulting wine is more austere and less alcoholic (12.8%), but is likely to develop more complexity with age. It needs a few years. 91
Last was Peter’s 2009 Resonance Vineyard Pinot. Although he goes as far as Malborough, New Zealand to make some Pinots, this one’s a home-grown, single-vineyard delight. One year older than each of the others and showing that age, this was a very different Pinot with spicy, earthy tones, ripe cherry fruit and fine tannins. A very big mouthful indeed. 90
*Wine ratings out of 100*
Linfield College, McMinnville: The shaded campus was the site of our opening day lunch at this year’s International Pinot Noir Celebration in the heart of Oregon's Willamette Valley. We arrived late and were quickly directed across the lawns, but luckily there were still a couple of open spots left at the table.
After the introductions, we were amazed to find that Lucy's neighbour turned out to be none other than Elizabeth Grant-Douglas, who is not only daughter-in-law of our Niagara friend Ken Douglas, but winemaker of the wonderful pinots of La Crema in California.
La Crema has laid claim to all the prime Pinot sites in California (much like Jadot in Burgundy). Located in Sonoma County, they produce a range of outstanding Pinots and Chardonnays from vineyards in Los Carneros, the Russian River and Anderson Valleys as well as the Sonoma Coast.
Our splendid al fresco lunch was enhanced by Elizabeth's excellent 2010 La Crema Monterey and Arroyo Secco Pinots. The Monterey was a perfect pick: open ripe fruit, well balanced, and at $20, quite a steal. 88 The Arroyo Secco, sourced from a single vineyard, shwed darker fruit and more structure. It was a bit much for lunch, but a fine wine with earthy, mineral notes and a long finish. While excellent today, it will be even better in another year or two alongside a juicy roast chicken in a wild mushroom sauce. And for $40, another great value for such a fine bottle. 90
We were also joined by Sheila Nicholas, owner of Dundee Hills' Anam Cara Cellars and one of the tireless event organizers. Having abandoned Fife (Scotland) when she was young for the bright lights of London, she finally settled down in the Williamette Valley of Oregon.
Sheila's Pinot was elsewhere, but she gave us some background on the local Ransom 2009; a real mouthful, but still developing. Earthy cherry flavours along with wild mushrooms gave this wine real character, followed by a long finish. 91 We were also treated to a 10-year-old Pinot from Patricia Green Cellars. Perhaps not up to the elegant standard of a Grand Cru Burgundy, but still a pretty decent drink, if starting to fade. 87
Finally, not one to back away from American and Burgundian competition, an interloper in the form of Quartz Reef in New Zealand's Central Otago also found its way to our table. Concentrated with sweetish berry twinge, this wine showed promise of real class. 90
The Wine: 1988 Sylvain Cathiard Vosne Romanee Malconsorts (Rating: 89)
The Match: Roast Duck. Good but not perfect.
Lucy found a fresh Pekin duck, which is unusual here as most of the ducks seem to be Muscovy. From her Scottish heritage, roast duck is her favourite dish. Roasted with potatoes and served with applesauce, French beans and some new Ontario asparagus I decided to match it with a burgundy I had hidden in the cellar.
In the spring of 1991 we visited the cellar of M. Cathiard, where the labels were just being applied to the 1989's, but they were not yet ready for prime time. Nonetheless we were delighted to acquire the 1988, a good solid year in Burgundy, when many sturdy but few ethereal wines were produced, to bring home for our cellar. At that time Sylvain Cathiard's wines were to be found only in very select locations, including La Tour d'Argent in Paris.
Still chilled coming out of the cellar, the nose was closed, opening to modest, but refined dark berries as it warmed by the fire. On the palate, initially somewhat astringent, again opening to restrained raspberry plum flavours and a long silky finish. Still plenty of structure, it tried mightily to keep up with the richness of the roast duck and accompaniments, but alas, fell short of perfect. A great experience nonetheless, if not up to the very best
Lucy is flying off to Chile tomorrow to explore it's culinary scene--from Santiago south to Patagonia and then back north to La Serena, the focus is on unique and sustainable products. She will no doubt have tales to tell from this exciting land when she returns. For our final dinner before she leaves, we decided to stick to the basics, but what great basics they were! For us, nothing beats outstanding roast chicken, green veggies, salad and more of Vicki's potatoes.
To help it along we unearthed a bottle of 2003 Beaune Bressandes from Albert Morot. These days, with so many exciting wines to discover (from the rich fruit of Central Otago pinots to the warmth and elegance of some pinots from Oregon and the Sonoma Coast) we forget that the original can be sublime. This bottle was just that. Well on its way to brilliance (we probably cut its life short before its time) here was pure pinot: spicy, smoky with generous ripe dark fruit. Perfect with the chicken and something for Lucy to compare with the Chilean wines and foods in the days to come...
Lucy's husband Bruce MacDougall is a lawyer by day and a wine aficionado by night. He has studied wine, traveled extensively and tasted all over the world. He has a terrific palate and even better he can remember the tastes which make food and wine matching easy for him. He did all the wine picks for Lucy's new book A Year in Lucy's Kitchen which were well reviewed. Here on his blog he dishes on the meals he and Lucy have together and the wines they drink along the way.