Sweet Wines


Drinking Niepoort

My few days in Lyon included the unbelievable experience of drinking the first port Niepoort ever made, the Imperador made from a blend of vintages from 1842 to 1850. Beginning in 1842, Niepoort operated as a negociant style port house, as is typical for the region, buying port from families throughout the Douro and then blending, until the last two decades when Dirk Niepoort took over leadership as the fifth generation leading the family owned house.

At the end of the 1980s, Dirk began making table wine with grapes from the Duoro, sparking controversy through the region by breaking its mold, but Dirk’s still wine also inspired other winemakers to follow suit, with table wines from the Duoro now a relatively common practice. Since, Niepoort Vinhos has continued to produce some of the best still wines in Portugal, not only from the Duoro but also in small quantities from other key regions. Dirk has also shifted the house style on port away from being negociant-only to instead making the port wines from vine all the way to bottling as well. The shift in focus has brought incredible clarity to the style and an admirable elegance.

The Imperador was an unusual style for what the house would become – sweeter than what they went on to make after, and less robust, with less core palate density than wines that followed as well. Even so, it was a treasure to taste a wine not only of its age but its provenance. I have great admiration for the history of Niepoort so to enjoy a nip of their very first wine is irreplaceable.

Niepoort Garrafeira – a style Niepoort is one of the very few to make – proved to be not only the finest port I’ve ever tasted but also one of the finest wines I’ve ever had as well. Two years ago I was able to shadow Dirk through harvest in the Duoro for five days. Half way through the visit he had a special dinner to thank his winemakers and friends and I was also invited. Thanks to the longevity of the family house, his collection of aged ports is, of course, remarkable. Half way through the dinner he blinded us on two special bottles.

The first was a beautiful wine, elegant and concentrated, wonderfully aged and savory with an incredibly long finish and fully integrated sweetness – the experience was more about texture and mouthfeel, savor and well-aged spice than sweetness. It’s something Niepoort is known for – a less sweet style of port. There was a very light sense of angularity to the structure of the wine but it was pleasant, like the weave of shantung silk, with the more textural component integral to the delicate strength of the fabric. I was grateful for the wine and enjoyed it but in truth it wouldn’t have such strong place in my memory except for then tasting the wine that followed it.

The first of the two wines was a 1952 vintage port put into 5-gallon glass car boys in 1955 and aged that way until 1974 when it was bottled in a standard port bottle for market. The aging in car boy is integral to Garrafeira port, and Niepoort is one of the few to do this. Dirk told us the provenance of the wine only after we had also tasted the second.

Dirk then poured us the second wine blind. Tasting it, I couldn’t believe the experience. As soon as we sipped, we all fell silent. To this day it is the most exciting wine I’ve ever tasted – savory, palate stimulating, somehow glittering in its presentation. The wine was such a perfect experience it struck me as impossible to describe in regular terms. Later I told Dirk it felt like drinking mother of pearl – that iridescent, shimmering, metallic and pastel, sea blue inner layer of a nautilus shell. The wine was seamless, elegant, other worldly, the epitome of what we mean when we use the phrase fine wine.

Only after we tasted and discussed both wines did Dirk reveal to us what they were. The second wine had started its life as the exact same wine as the first – a vintage port from 1952 put into 5-gallon glass car boy in 1955. But while the first bottle was moved from car boy to bottle in 1974, this second remained in car boy longer, then bottled in 1987. Incredibly, the two wines had each spent exactly the same amount of time in glass, only the size of the glass had changed. The contrast between the two wines considering such a seamingly small change, and the discovery of their provenance and history was remarkable. It’s an experience I still reflect on often today – the importance of simple choices, the details, in relation to what develops later, the second wine such a testament to both experimentation and patience.

Returning all the way back to the very first Niepoort port, the Imperador, this week was inspired and charming. I’ll admit that while I admire the Imperador, it didn’t reach a place in the Pantheon for me as the 1952-87 Garrafeira did – one of the god heads of wine – but even so, it’s an experience I treasure. I learned about the history of Niepoort from tasting it, and it gave me great palate sense for how a wine like that ages – easily.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Tips from Celebrated Bartender, Christopher Longoria

Christopher Longoria

Christopher Longoria, photo courtesy of 1760

“It depends on what you want from a cocktail.” Christopher Longoria, celebrated Bar Program Manager at the ingredient-driven restaurant 1760 in San Francisco, tells me. “Are you trying to showcase the aperitif, or using a characteristic of it to make something else?”

Known for his creative approach, Longoria relies less on recipes for cocktail classics when behind the bar, and more on a culinary style, thinking first in terms of aromas and textures, to mix drinks. He is advising me on the art of mixing cocktails made from aperitif wines.

Recent years have brought a small boon in California artisanal aperitifs made by small-scale wineries. Longoria has found that these fortified wines, such as vermouth and chinato, offer an advantage behind the bar. Cocktails made from spirits tend to be less aromatic while also higher in alcohol but aperitif wines are able to offer a lot of character at lower proof.

A California Product

Matthiasson 2011 Flora Vermouth

Vermouth in particular has garnered recent attention. Vya and Sutton Cellars hold the spot as two of the most significant examples of American vermouth. Vya makes a range of styles from sweet, to dry, and extra dry, while Sutton Cellars gives a sweet version carrying both citrus and bitter elements.

More recently other small-scale examples have come out of Napa. Last year, Matthiasson released a sweet vermouth tasting of blood orange and coriander, while Massican has now released several vintages of dry vermouth offering a lighter body with citrus and floral notes.

“I use vermouth for different characteristics,” Longoria explains. “It tends to be good for aromatics, and depending on the vermouth, I will use it to make a silky texture.” The type of vermouth makes a difference in how to approach it, Longoria explains. The style – sweet to dry – also relates to the aperitifs weight on the palate.

“A sweet vermouth,” Longoria explains, “acts as the foundation of a drink. It gives it body, earthiness and sweetness.” When mixing with sweet vermouth you want your other ingredients to be lighter bodied, while also complementing the vermouth aroma and flavor. A bit of dry vermouth mixed with sweet can help focus the character of the final beverage.

“Dry vermouth is good for finishing a drink, tightening it up without drying it out,” Longoria tells me. “I use just a touch of dry vermouth to pull the body back in if I use something that would be too rich on its own.” As a result, the drink finishes clean in the mouth, leaving your palate ready for a different experience with the next cocktail.

More unusual aperitifs perfect for mixing have also cropped up in California.

Palmina Chinato

In Santa Barbara County, Palmina delivers a small production chinato made with the winery‘s Nebbiolo, and flavored with locally grown ingredients.

In Sonoma, Vivier Wines has created what might be the only Pineau des Charentes in the United States under the name Sexton-Vivier – made in honor of both the winemaker’s grandmother and his wife. By fortifying pressed juice, rather than already fermented wine, the drink retains a sense of freshness along with a sweet, herbal element.

Cocktails at Home

Sexton Vivier 2012 Pineau des Charentes

How to use artisanal aperitifs at home? Start simple, and play, Longoria says.

“You can take a classic cocktail, and switch up a key ingredient.” Longoria suggests. “Chinato can be used to make a black Manhattan. It works in mixed drinks like a darker, more herbaceous amaro.”

Similarly, Matthiasson vermouth works well in a negroni bringing out a blood orange element that gives the drink a new twist. The Massican or Sexton-Vivier, on the other hand, offer each a decidedly different take on a martini.

“When it comes to gin and vermouth,” or other mid-weight aperitifs, like the Pineau, Longoria explains, “consider the aroma. Gins tend to be really aromatic. If you want to play that up, go with an apertif with complementary aromatics. Or if you want the gin to be the focus, go with a milder one.”

The viscosity also comes into play. In the case of the Sexton-Vivier, its fuller body brings a sweet note to a gin martini, while the Massican keeps a lighter bodied focus on lifted aromatics.

“Making mixed drinks at home,” Longoria says, “it’s all about playing with the ingredients, and getting the palate attuned to it. Start with small portions, and get familiar with your components before you mix them. Figure out what you like, and mix from there.”

Christopher Longoria offered the following tips to get started making mixed drinks from artisanal aperitifs at home, and a recipe for Massican, an off-dry vermouth with a focus on delicate citrus and floral elements.

Massican 2012 Vermouth

Tips for Mixing Aperitif Cocktails at Home

  • Get Familiar with your aperitif on its own – it’s aroma, viscosity, and level of sweetness
  • Mix small portions first
  • Think of a sweet aperitif as the body of your cocktail, then mix with lighter bodied aperitifs or spirits with complementary aromas to accent it
  • Think of a dry aperitif as a way to tighten the body and finish of other ingredients
  • Don’t be afraid to mix different aperitifs together for a low-proof cocktail

Here’s a recipe from Christopher Longoria using the Massican Vermouth.


Apertivo by Christopher Longoria

Apertivo without ice, photo courtesy of Christopher Longoria

.75 oz Massican Vermouth
.75 oz Bertina Elderflower
2 dashes orange bitters

Add ice, if desired. Stir.

Top with 1 oz. Marotti Campi Brut Rosé.
May also be topped with a Blanc Brut Cava for slightly less fruit flavor.


Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Tasting with Sandi Skerk

Sandi Skerk

Sandi Skerk and his 2009, 2010 Ograde White blend

Kevin Wardell of Bergamot Alley in Healdsburg, Cailfornia opened his doors early yesterday to a small industry tasting of Skerk wines. The event was guided by both Sandi Skerk himself, and importer Oliver McCrum of Oliver McCrum Wines, and hosted too by Kris Clausen of Vinifera Marketing.

The team selected side by side vintages of four wines central to the Skerk portfolio, as well as a preview of upcoming releases, and a not-for-sale passito.

Skerk originates at the Italy-Slovenia intersection of Karst (or Carso), so named for the geological formation of the same name that dominates the area. The region sits atop a bed of limestone, shaped and hollowed by movements of water, then layered over with shallow red-iron soils. Skerk’s own cellar rests along a limestone hollow with holes in the floor blowing fresh sea-influenced air from below.

Vineyards only a short distance from the Adriatic, and grown up hillsides North of Trieste, Skerk exemplifies the magical, quiet presence of the region. His wines and personality both showcase a steady persistence, carried on fine frame, with elegant aromatics, and savory delicate palate.

It is hard to describe the stimulation and life found in a glass of Skerk wine — they are simultaneously clean, and unexpected; at once pretty and yet carrying notes of meat; the palate persists through delicate frame full of sapidity and Italian salato. These are wines designed to showcase tradition and elegance both.

Skerk’s family carries a history of winemaking, though Sandi’s own professional training begins with mechanical engineering. Eventually choosing to return to the family business, Sandi began in 2000 experimenting with techniques practiced by his grandfather.

As Skerk explains, in his grandfather’s generation, winemaking typical to the region fermented all white grapes together on skins, and all reds together on skins. Macerated ferments normally lasted 10 days to two weeks, before being pressed and aged. Skerk’s father focused instead on straight-to-press practices, fermenting whites’ juice only.

In 2000, Sandi returned to experimenting with extended fermentation on skins lasting around 30 days. In his most recent vintages, Skerk has reduced maceration length to 2 weeks, bringing his approach closer to that originally used by his grandfather.

Grapes are picked based on taste, with beautiful juiciness and clean aromatics consistently showing through his wines. By utilizing only pristine fruit, Skerk is able to avoid sulfur additions until prior to bottling.

Skerk keeps his cellar techniques disciplined while also straightforward, choosing to keep a steady eye on helpmates like pristine picked fruit, CO2, and submerged cap. The wines are kept on lees until a month prior to bottling, to further support the wines’ own natural immune system. In this way, Skerk is able to keep free sulfur targets around only 20 ppm.

Tasting Skerk Wines

Skerk portfolio

Skerk Vitovska 2009 and 2010

Indigenous to the region, Vitovska grows with thick skins and big bunches. Skerk head trains his Vitovska in order to encourage smaller berry and bunch size, thus increasing the skin-to-juice ratio for his macerated ferments.

The aromatics of all Skerk wines are greatly increased from his reliance on skin contact. With scents of fruit-based (not oak) nutmeg and cardamom integrated into the apricot blossom and orange spice of the nose, the 2009 cascades into savory flavors of prosciutto, pepper and melon on the palate. This wine exemplifies the Italian idea of salato and sapidity–intensive mouth stimulation with savory, mineral salinity.

The 2010 drinks like picnic on the sea shore, with orange and apricot blossom laced through with clove aromatics, followed by prosciutto on a touch of melon and breadstick, hints of red berries and salty seagrass on the finish.

Skerk Malvazija 2010 and 2011

Made with the Malvasia Istriana grape, the 2010 Malvazija shows pretty aromatics of pink and yellow flowers, followed by a tightly focused palate that opens significantly with air to reveal crisp apple, quince, touches of red currant and black cap. The wine is both savory and floral, with beautiful integration, and long palate stimulation.

Malvazija 2011 gives apple blossom, pink tea rose, crisp apple, and quince, giving savory palate notes of rock salt, cracked pepper, and mineral crunch. The wine offers textural richness and a long finish. The 2011 Malvazija will be available for release in February 2014.

Skerk Ograde 2009 and 2010

Made in a cofermented blend of Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon, Vitovska, and Malvasia Istria, the Ograde offers the sophisticated, fine boned, complexity possible with a harmony of grapes. I enjoy Skerk wines very much generally, but this was my first taste of the Ograde. I especially enjoyed it.

Skerk 2009, 2010 Ogradeclick on illustration to enlarge

Giving pretty floral aromatics, followed by textural savory palate, the 2010 shows herbal aspects, to the 2009’s lightly jalapeno notes. Where the 2009 offers pink and fresh floral apects, the 2010 crisp white notes. These are beautiful wines.

Skerk Terrano 2009 and 2010

Made with the Teran grape, Skerk’s Terrano carries bright red fruit acidity coupled with savory plum, and touches of pickled cherry. The 2009 opens with pink floral and plum blossom, moving into prosciutto, black pepper, and long savory, salato finish. The 2010 offers plum and cherry blossom, alongside the savory palate, with pickled cherry, and refreshing cucumber moving with beautiful length. This is an ideal wine for crusted, medium rare, red meat.

(Not for Sale) 2010 Passito Terrano

We closed the tasting with Skerk’s hand-bottled Terrano passito. The wine offered a beautiful example of juicy-to-sweet balance, concentrated red currant, cranberry, and blackcap, moving into an impressive savory finish. A hand written home bottle is a special joy of mine. What a treat to enjoy this one all the way from Carso.

Thank you to Sandi Skerk, Oliver McCrum, and Kris Clausen.

Thank you to Sam Bilbro, Megan Glaab, and Kevin Wardell.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Pebble Beach Food & Wine

One of the great annual food and wine extravaganzas on the West Coast United States occurs each Spring in Pebble Beach. The town becomes host to the best chefs, wines, and sommeliers from all over the world, as well as the folks that want to be there to drink in their offerings.

Here are photos surveying some of the activities I was lucky enough to attend over three of the four days (it begins Thursday but I arrived Friday).

Friday:The Grand Tour: European Continental Cuisine Lunch, featuring Wines of Portugal

Pebble Beach

Garden lunch reception begins at Pebble Beach

Salmon Cavier Popsicles

appetizers are served on the lawn, Chef Roland Passot’s Salmon Lollipop, w Quinta da Raza, Raza 2011 Vinho Verde

Cassolette des Fruits des Mer Printaniere

Inside for a seated lunch: Chef Johan Bjorklund’s Cassolette, w Companhia das Quintas, Quinta da Romeira 2011

Duck Charcuterie & Traditional Garnishes

Duck Charcuterie & Traditional Garnishes by Chef Michael Ginor, w Esparao Reserva 2008

Patisserie Chef Francois Payard

Patisserie Chef Francois Payard


World Class Sommeliers serving at lunch


World Class Sommeliers serving at lunch

Wines of Portugal

Portuguese wines from lunch

Ruinart Private Dinner

The Ruinart Table

Nicolas, Michelle, and Frederic

Nicolas Ricroque, Chef Michelle Bernstein, and Chef de Caves Frédéric Panaiotis discuss final dinner preparations


welcome with Ruinart Blanc de Blancs

Ruinart Dinner Setting

Ragout of spring vegetables

Ragout of spring vegetables, seared foie gras, truffle vegetable nage, served w Dom Ruinart Rosé 1998

the brilliantly improvised skatewing and uni course

beautifully improvised dish of Skatewing w fresh Sea Urchin, Sourdough Bread, paealla, open clams, and fresh peas, served w Dom Ruinart 2002, and 1998

Dom Ruinart Rose 1990 and 1996

Dom Ruinart Rosé 1990 and 1996

Chef Morimoto Master Cooking Demonstration w Ruinart Champagne

Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Frederic Panaiotis preparing for the demonstration

Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Panaiotis prepare before the demonstration

The preparations

the view before hand in the demonstration mirror

Chef and Chef de Caves

Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Panaiotis

The demonstration tent

Panaiotis discussing food pairings as Morimoto preps

the event begins. Frédéric Panaiotis introduces Ruinart Champagne

The crowd

Offering sushi

Chef Morimoto gives sushi for Chef de Caves Panaiotis some final touches

Fans with Morimoto

the audience excited for pictures after the demonstration

Fans for Morimoto

Ridge Monte Bello Panel at Spanish Bay

View from Spanish Bay

the view at Spanish Bay

Flowers seaside

Ridge Monte Bello Vertical

Nine vintage vertical of Monte Bello–1984, 1995, 2006-2012

The Ridge Panel

The Ridge Discussion Panel preparing

Ridge Monte Bello Barrel Samples

2011 and 2012 are still in barrel

Ridge Monte Bello Vertical

Battle of the Coasts: WEST Dinner

Starting dinner with Dom

beginning with Dom Perignon 2003

Opening Course

Uni by Chef Dominique Crenn, served w Grieve Family Winery 2011 Sauvignon Blanc

Black Cioppino

Black Cioppino by Chef Thomas McNaughton, served w Clendenen Family Chardonnay “Le Bon Climat” 2008

Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake by Pastry Chef Lincoln Carson, served w Taylor Fladgate Vintage Porto 2003

The Grand Tasting

Food at the Grand Tasting

Grand Tasting

Pouring Wind Gap

Pax Mahle pouring Wind Gap Wines

Chris Williams

Chris Williams, Brooks Wines

Brooks Riesling

Brooks, Willamette Valley Riesling and Pinot Noir

Chef preparing food

Chef projector

The Lindt Chef Projector (This image talked about the chocolate while the real her was standing 5-ft away talking about the chocolate. It was a trip.)

Pouring Palmina

Steve Clifton pouring Palmina Wines

Thank you to Sarah Logan, and Vanessa Kanegai.

Thank you to Nicolas Ricroque, and Frederic Panaiotis.

Thank you to Mark Stone.

Thank you to Bettye Saxon.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

We were able to gather 11 wines total from South Australia for a tasting bringing together a few of the smaller boutique labels, with a few of the more established ones. The vintages also varied between 2003 and 2012.

This Monday several of us got together to taste, enjoy, and talk through the wines. I retasted everything again the next day, and then once more the day after. The wines were not tasted blind because part of the interest was talking through the different regions and age of the wines. Here are the tasting notes.

Tasting South Australia

Much of South Australia has warmer temperatures bringing wines with a softer structural presentation. However, Clare Valley is one exception represented in the tasting, offering a moderate continental climate with cool nights. It is also one of the oldest wine regions in the country, and with its cooler nights and elevation is known for its Riesling.

General insight states that South Australian wines age less long than those from cooler climate areas, such as Victoria or Tasmania. However, to give us some glimpse at exceptions, Torbreck sent two older vintage wines, both also made partially from older vines.

The whites presented strongest overall in the tasting with the Kilikanoon Riesling, and the Torbreck Semillon showing best to the group in the tasting overall. The Torbreck Steading, and Ochota Barrels Grenache Syrah blend were the most pleasing of the reds. Details follow.

Flight 1: The Whites

South Australian Whites

Kilikanoon Clare Valley 2009 Mort’s Reserve Watervale Riesling, Kanta Egon Muller 2010 Riesling, Torbreck Barossa Valley 2004 Woodcutter’s Semillon

* Kilikanoon Clare Valley 2009 Mort’s Reserve Watervale Riesling 12.5%
Opening with classic petrol in nose and palate, that lifts to some degree with air, the Kilakanoon gives green apple notes with gritty texture coming through on a distinct mineral tension through the throat, vibrant acidity, and a tang finish. The wine starts high and lifted in the mouth, with lots of juiciness, followed by a grabbing finish full of tension and length. I vote yes.

Kanta Egon Muller 2010 Riesling 13.5%
Where the Kilakanoon comes in fresh and lifted, the Kanta has more weight. The nose is floral, and more candied, moving into a tart opening on the palate with a driven apple tang rise that grips the mouth for a gritty tart close all with a polished sand texture. The acidity here is juicy. If you prefer more of a fruit focus and slightly wider palate to your Riesling, you’ll like the Kanta better. It’s a nicely made wine but not my style. The weight of the wine and breadth of the palate work against me.

* Torbreck Barossa Valley 2004 Woodcutter’s Semillon 14.5%
The Woodcutter’s Semillon was my favorite of the entire tasting. It gave delicacy with depth, drinking (interestingly enough) like a nicely aged Rhone white. The nose was pretty and light, balanced with both a floral-herbal lift and a mid-range breadth of light marzipan on the nose. The palate carried through without sweetness, offering clean delicate flavors adding in light beach grass notes and a long saline finish. This wine offered good presence, with a delicate presentation, and nice weight.

Flight 2: Grenache Reds

South Australia Grenache Reds

d’Arenberg the Derelict Vineyard 2009 McLaren Vale Grenache, Ochota Barrels 2012 the Green Room Grenache Noir Syrah

These two wines come from starkly different styles giving an interesting contrast on treatment of Grenache.

d’Arenberg the Derelict Vineyard 2009 McLaren Vale Grenache 14.5%
d’Arenberg offers a rich focused presentation that is comfortable using oak to integrate spice with the fruit. The Derelict Vineyard Grenache serves as a nice example of a wine committed to this style and doing a fine job of it. It gives a layered presentation of flavors including lightly sweet fruit, lightly sweet baking spice, primarily clove and ginger, and an earthy groundedness. The fruit is juicy without being overly extracted. The wine shows best on its first day as it showed its oak more than its fruit as it stayed open longer giving stronger pencil elements–both the wood and graphite–as it got more air. It did not drink well on day 3.

Ochota Barrels 2012 the Green Room Grenache Noir Syrah 13.8%
The Ochota is quaffable and fresh, all about lifted fresh drink-now fruit. It drinks like a cool climate grenache with those slightly under-ripe elements alongside fruity varietal expression. The wine is fun, and lively, meant to be enjoyed while cooking and laughing with friends. It gives pink flowers, strawberry, orange peel, cardamom, and fennel seed on the finish. There are stem chewing elements that provide interest on what would otherwise be an ultra light fruit driven wine. This wine is pleasing and very much about varietal character, rather than about showing off the soil or site in which it’s grown.

(I was joking with Amy during the tasting that where the Ochota is meant to be gulped with friends at the start of a bbq while the meat is cooking but not yet ready, the d’Arenberg is the wine a slightly old school man would pour for you in front of a fire at night when he’s getting up the guts to make his first move.)

Flight 3: Shiraz and blend

South Australia Shiraz and blend

Adelina 2010 Clare Valley Shiraz, John Duval Entity 2010 Barossa Valley Shiraz, Torbreck 2003 The Steading Barossa Valley GSM

Properly speaking the Torbreck should have been placed in the previous flight. The Shiraz didn’t impact the flavor of the Torbreck. It would simply have suited the Grenache flight better.

Unfortunately, both the Adelina and the John Duval Wines were not pleasing here. Based on the texture and flavor composition of the wines I believe the bottles had been heat effected. With that in mind I cannot provide proper notes here as I believe what we tasted does not represent how the wines were made.

* Torbreck 2003 The Steading Barossa Valley 14.5% Grenache 60% Shiraz 20% Mataro 20%
The wine opens with a bretty sense that blows off and becomes animal musk on forest floor. The nose carries into the palate layering in an enlivening iodine element alongside porcini and seaweed umami with a long tingling finish and polished tannin. The alcohol is lightly hot here but palatable. The wine holds strong on day 3 bringing in a smoked cherry element and a touch more of the alcohol heat. This wine may be a year or so past its prime but that said I enjoyed it and was impressed by how well it showed on day 3.

Flight 4: Other Reds

South Australian Reds

Alpha Box & Dice 2007 Blood of Jupiter, Samuel’s Gorge 2011 Tempranillo McLaren Vale

Alpha Box & Dice 2007 Blood of Jupiter 15.5% Sangiovese 85% Cabernet 15%
The label Alpha Box & Dice is known for their commitment to experimentation and trying new blends to see what works. That is the sort of interest I appreciate, and in trying such wines some levity has to be allowed in the risk. This is all by way of saying I appreciate the work done here while at the same time am not a fan of this particular blend. The wine is drinkable while singular. It focuses primarily on fruit and spice without enough layered flavor.

Samuel’s Gorge 2011 McLaren Vale Tempranillo 14.5%
This was one of the harder wines for me as it comes in with big fruit and collapses into leather. The structure is soft collapsing in quick stages on the palate with a semi-long finish. There is more fruit than this wine’s spine carries. The varietal character does not show.

Flight 5: Dessert

South Australian Pedro Ximenez

Dandelion Vineyards Legacy of the Barossa 30 year old Pedro Ximenez

Dandelion Vineyards Legacy of the Barossa 30 year old Pedro Ximenez 19%
The Pedro Ximenez enters with a fresh, delicate nose that is lightly nutty, turning into black walnut and baking spice on the palate with a long juicy finish. The flavors are pleasing but I’d prefer more acidity to help wash the palate. Without the higher acidity it gets heavy in the mouth. This wine demands cheese.


Thank you to each of the importers that provided these wines as samples.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Tasting at Brooks

In any wine trip there are stand outs. Having spent almost a month in Willamette Valley I’ve tasted a wealth of area wines from multiple vintages, through various grape varieties, along clonal and soil differences. There are a number of wines here that I love. Brooks Wines is the stand out.

As members of both the Oregon Riesling Alliance (ORA), and the International Riesling Foundation (IRF), Brooks Wines helps to cultivate the variety in Willamette Valley’s cool climate. With just under 40 members of the ORA, the group works to develop the overall quality of Riesling in Oregon. As Harry Peterson-Nedry put it, “higher water floats all boats. We know that if anyone of us improves, we all benefit.” With that in mind, the ORA meet to hold private blind tastings to critique the quality of the individual wines, media tastings at different points in the year, and work together to build the overall quality, and public awareness of Oregon Riesling.

Janie Brooks Heuck serves as a member of the IRF board, whose goal is to develop long term public education, quality, and information about quality Riesling from around the world. The well-known Summer of Riesling campaign, with its participating wineries, shops, and wine serving venues from bars to restaurants, arises from the work of the IRF, celebrating Riesling through focus on various global regions. The program has done an incredible job at increasing interest and distribution too of Riesling in the United States, and other regions of the world. One of Brooks Heuck’s goals is for the program to grow to include a focus on domestic Rieslings as the quality of domestic Riesling also increases.  Currently Summer of Riesling has celebrated attention on Riesling in general, with a focus on well-known regions such as Germany or Austria during their regional highlights. Domestic production of Riesling is far lower than these other regions, but there are already examples of quality Riesling being made in the United States, Brooks being one of them.

The 2009 Brooks Willamette Valley Riesling is an excellent value. The bottle retails at $18 (or less) and offers a fresh, clean, energizing nose with citrus florals and light prosciutto notes. The palate is genuinely dry, offering distinct stone minerality, with dry toast touches, and a rush of citrus and floral qualities. The movement on this wine is fantastic. I’ve been craving it since our visit.

Brooks Wines was started with a commitment to keeping prices down to allow their wines to be accessible to more people. Janie Brooks Heuck has been able to keep that commitment to affordability by working with wine maker Chris Williams to increase the production levels, while still holding onto a hands on approach to maintain quality.

Riesling came in as one of the early varieties to grow in the Willamette Valley. Initially, the wine style being produced with the grape was what many locally still refer to as ‘soda pop’ with alcohol. Because of the initial difficulty in producing quality wines with the variety many began ripping out their Riesling in favor of other varieties. Jimi Brooks, the founder of Brooks Wines, worked to convince vineyard owners and managers to hold onto the older vine Riesling so that a return to quality dry style wine with older vines could continue in the region.

The 2009 Ara depends upon 50% Brooks estate fruit, and 50% fruit from Yamhill Vineyard, with vines planted in 1984. Yamhill Vineyard is one of the sites Jimi Brooks approached to maintain older plantings.

The 2009 Ara offers a fully dry, slightly rounder presentation, with a still up but softer acidity than the Willamette Valley Riesling. There is a nose of peach blossom here, with a palate of white peach, and peach blossom. The shift from citrus to stone fruit focus changes the experience of this wine so that where the acidity of the Willamette Valley Riesling shows as bright and racing in the mouth, the Ara offers a smoother focus.

As Brooks Heuck explains, in their view the reason for choosing to make single vineyard wines is to bring attention, and regard to the farmer of the site, and the work they are doing, as well as to learn about and celebrate the site itself. With this in mind, Brooks has chosen to create a Bois Joli Vineyard specific Riesling in the medium dry category.

2011 offered extended hang time due to the cool temperatures throughout the vintage. A number of Riesling producers in Willamette Valley have remarked that for that reason they believe it’s a beautiful vintage for an off-dry style. The very light note of residual sugar changes the experience of the intense acidity of such a vintage, creating a more complete presentation of the wine.

The Bois Joli Vineyard 2011 Riesling comes in with 2% residual sugar. This has a peach blossom plus meyer lemon nose that is vibrant and lightly touched with green bean. There are loads of peach and citrus plus light smoke and cut stone minerality on the palate. This has a mouth squeezing (yum) acidity, and a long finish. Ultra juicy.

The Sweet P 2011 Riesling arises entirely from Brooks Estate Vineyard fruit. The choice has been to model biodynamic winemaking practices with the fruit from this location. To celebrate the unique qualities of the location, Brooks has chosen to also sell some estate Riesling fruit to other wine makers in the area. Big Table Farm produces a Brooks Estate Vineyard Riesling, which I was lucky enough to taste recently as well. (Notes on that to follow in a future post.)

The 2011 Sweet P, named for winery owner, Pascal–son of Brooks founder Jimi Brooks, beautifully integrates the 5% residual sugar with the vibrant acidity. This wine undergoes natural ferments, which bring an open complexity to the presentation. There are refreshing vegetal qualities coming through along side pie crust, and late season citrus blossom. This wine offers an impressively vibrant expression–again energizing and clear, without having to demand your attention, all carried with both feet on the ground. I very much enjoy this wine.

Born and raised in Oregon, Chris Williams had worked with Jimi Brooks making wine at Willakenzie, and Momtazi, before then becoming the wine maker for Brooks itself. After Jimi Brooks passing, Janie Brooks Heuck stepped in to keep the winery going for the same of Pascal Brooks, Jimi’s son. As she explains, it became clear that Williams was the right person to make Brooks’ wine. “He wanted to keep it going for the same reasons I did. Now we’ve had one more harvest than Jimi did.”

The Tethys Riesling is a late harvest wine, with the 2011 made in a year where all fruit hung late. Again, this wine carries a rolling acidity that brings the sweetness over and off the palate. There are light vegetal notes here along with peach blossom, white peach, and hints of date. The wine carries cut stone and light petrol minerality, alongside light white herbs.

Brooks Rieslings are some of the finest offered in Willamette Valley.

(The white blend that shows in this photo will be discussed in the “Visiting Brooks Wine, part 2” post to follow.)

After IPNC 2012 some of us were able to attend a media tasting of approximately 15 Riesling producers in the Willamette Valley. Alder Yarrow posted thorough tasting notes on his experience with the media tasting. To read more about recent releases of other Rieslings in Willamette, as well as more information on the variety in the region, find Yarrow’s post here: http://www.vinography.com/archives/2012/08/treasure_in_the_hills_tasting.html

More on other Willamette Rieslings, and on Brooks other wines to follow.


Thank you to Janie Brooks Heuck and to Chris Williams for taking time to meet with me. I’ve very much enjoyed having time with both of you.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Seth Long and Destiny Dudley Throw an Alaska Salmon, Moose Meat, Oregon Wine Wakawaka BBQ

Thank you to Seth Long and Destiny Dudley for inviting together in one place the five things everyone needs–a wealth of good wines, Salmon, Moose Meat, Oregon Hazelnuts, and the good people of Willamette Valley. We had a wonderful time, and tasted, as I said, a wealth of good wines. Thank you!

wide angle lens photos taken by Destiny Dudley-thank you for sharing them!

Thank you to Destiny Dudley, and Seth Long for being such lovely and generous hosts!

Thank you to my family for sending me down with fresh caught Bristol Bay Salmon, and Moose Meat.

Thank you to Anneka Miller, Jason Lett, Andrew Rich, Jim Maresh, Joseph Zumpeno, Amanda Evey, Timothy Wilson, Drew Voit, Mike Primo. I apologize if I’ve forgotten anyone.

Thank you, finally, to our philosophical belly buttons. And to the hazelnuts.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Visiting Omero Cellars and Sarah Cabot

the tasting room in Carlton

inside the tasting room

getting ready to walk through the vineyards on Ribbon Ridge, our greeter

The Omero Cellars property rests in the smallest AVA in Willamette Valley at only 1300 acres, Ribbon Ridge. Omero’s vines are predominately Pinot Noir planted in 2009, with 26 total acres, 22 of which are Pinot Noir, 4 acres Pinot Gris. 2011 offered the first vintage of fruit off the property.

After completing studies at the Northwest Wine Academy with South Seattle Community College (as well as a degree in Jazz Composition from Berklee College of Music in Boston), Sarah Cabot sought harvest internships in Willamette Valley. The difficulty was found in her already having a secure position with the restaurant Wild Ginger in Seattle. Finally, she got the guts up to quit her job. The same day she gave notice she arrived home to an email about a harvest internship at Belle Pente, and the possibility of work as their Assistant Wine Maker, if she’d relocate, and proved the right fit. She hit the road.

“There has been a lot of serendipity for me in all of this.” –Sarah Cabot

“I love working with Pinot Noir. I love making whites. Those two are favorites. … There is no end to what we can learn. Each vintage is so different. I’m really playing mad scientist right now. Quality and knowledge in wine making come from trial and error. So, I always experiment, and put a lot of thought into my experiments before starting them, and talk with peers about them too. And then there are also the tools from school to work with. ” –Sarah Cabot

rains fell at bud break this year, causing some of the blooms to stay shut, thereby not turning into fruit. The phenomenon is known as “shatter”, leading to clusters with fewer grapes. Without shatter a Pinot cluster would form a small fairly cohesive fist shape. Here the open nature of the cluster shows the loss of berries caused by the opening rain. Asking Cabot about the health of her clusters this year she is surprised at the amount of shatter, but quickly remarks she’s okay with it because of what the loss of fruit now can do for the complexity of the wine in the end.

The Pinot Gris is planted on incredibly steep slopes. The Omero Cellars 2011 Pinot Gris offers juicy, bright fruit, with touches of light citrus powder, good movement of acidity, and a smooth mouth feel.

The wines are made to be served with food, and so we ate. Roasted Beets served with a goat cheese whip, and a reduction of pink grapefruit, peach, rosemary, and lavender.

Served with the 2008 Omero Cellars Pinot Noir made with fruit from Chehalem Estate Vineyard, which was planted in 1983. The wine offers rich aromatics, with light caramel notes, pepper, dark fruit, and rose floral, plus rose bramble notes. The palate follows. I am disinclined to spit. This wine has a lot to offer now, but also wants time to show the joy of experience.

Beet greens, red quinoa, fresh green beans, roasted potatoes, broccolini, cherry tomatoes, and balsamic. Oregon vegetables are one of the five necessities for a good life.

The 2009 Omero Cellars Pinot Noir from the Ribbon Ridge AVA but declassified to name as Willamette Valley fruit. The wine offers rose, and lavender spice with a belly of red fruit aromatics. There is a soft mouth feel carrying pepper, and rose perfume alongside thoroughly integrated red fruit and light caramel notes.

Shaved zucchini squash, corn, truffle oil, and shaved Parmesan

Carlton Farms Pork Ribs served in a blackberry and Omero Pinot Noir reduction. I like meat. #meat

The 2010 Omero Cellars Iliad offers rose and cherry blossom with integrated spice and pepper, and a perfumed palate carrying deep date notes. The flavors here are fluid, while also rich and concentrated.

The 2010 Omero Cellars Odyssey–their reserve wine that vintage–shows a darker, fuller, and richer presentation alongside the Iliad. The aromatics show spiced, with pepper, and cooked (not jam) cherry. There are rose back notes here integrated in with the fruit.

What is consistent in Omero Cellars wines is a rich presentation with plenty of movement. There is a focus here on dark-flower aromatics, concentrated fruits, and acidity.

Tartlets from mixed greens and vegetable juice pulp, plum-apricots, with black pepper crumple, Oregon hazelnuts, and truffle honey. Oregon hazelnuts are another of the five things necessary to living a good life.

As a surprise, Destiny Dudley pulled out the first wine Cabot ever made to go with dessert–a 2007 Late Harvest Pinot Gris made in 5 gallon buckets and Cabot’s garage. The wine is remarkably fresh, and only a touch sweet. It offers orange blossom, and quince in a delicate nose, with white herbs, nuts, white peach, very light residual sugar and white pepper, all well integrated through the palate, and served in a label-less bottle (my favorite).

Thank you very much to Sarah Cabot for the wines, and walking me through the vineyards.

Thank you very much to Destiny Dudley for the fantastic food served for lunch.

Thank you to Amanda Moore.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Visiting Eyrie Vineyards Winery

the oldest vines in Willamette Valley, the South Block planted in 1966

beginning with a surprise–blind tasting 2989 Pinot Gris: nutty, (pleasing textural) oxidative notes, dried apricot

the Black Cap label, as Jason Lett explains it, is all about getting off the farm to see what other wine makers and farmers are doing; the Eyrie label is all about doing the best with the Estate’s own fruit

Mr. Dr. Who, Jason Lett

from left: fruit from the entire Eyrie estate; fruit only from the South Block original vines; fruit from Eyrie’s highest, Daphne Vineyard, all 2009

the Black Cap Pinot Noir blend 2009

Original vines, South Block Pinot Noir, 1980

the time machine–library bottles served in the tasting room

Eyrie Vineyards started with 30 new oak barrels. They still use 12 of those original barrels (they do repairs and replace the bands).

In going through the barrels of South Block Reserve from 1975 through 2007 (David Lett’s vintages of that presentation), barrels that were overly oxidized were lost. Those that showed oxidation but in a way that offered still interesting insight into the site were kept and blended together. 2011 juice was then added, and the remaining pressed grapes were sent to Portland to have custom brandy made with them. The wine was then fortified with the custom brandy to make a complete horizontal blend South Block Pinot Noir dessert wine. I did not spit this wine.

little barrels are kept in the Eyrie cellar to age wine made by the Lett daughters

an Eyrie Chardonnay dessert wine includes every vintage of South Block Chardonnay from 1970 through 2006. Juice from 2009 was added, and brandy made with the same fruit, then used for fortification. As Jason explains, we’re used to having wine blended from grapes in the same year over various vineyard sites. The dessert wine shows the South Block site over a long expanse of time. I did not spit the Chardonnay either.

the dessert wines will be bottled in the 500 ml clay Grolsch bottles. Since these bottles are not recyclable Eyrie will include the Grolsch closure with the bottle so that it can be reused.

the auger David Lett kept in the back of his car so he could take soil samples, as he toured Willamette looking for the right vineyard site.

“My father started this business. For a long time, Pinot Noir just ran through his veins. It was an incredible act of bravery, and generosity on his part to turn the winery over to me. It came after ten years of various changes at the winery. But then he said to me, “Jason, here are the keys. Don’t screw it up.” He was so deeply dedicated to his craft that for him to hand that over to me is a deep honor. At the same time, one cannot be too over awed, or you will get stuck in a mold and not move forward. What dad did was all about new direction. I want to keep tradition moving forward, while also keeping that tradition of trying new varieties, and new wines moving forward too.” -Jason Lett

Thank you to Jason Lett. Thank you to Diana Lett.

Thank you to Annica, and to Jacques!

I’m so grateful.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Touring Hawk and Horse Vineyards

Together Mitch and Tracey Hawkins run the Hawk and Horse Vineyards, a name given to the wines and vineyard by their daughter. It is an entirely family owned property and business in Lake County, California, with Tracey’s stepfather, David Boies, helping to kick start the project.

100 year old Redwood water tank resting low on the hill side entering the vineyard property. All of the water is fed from natural springs on the mountain.

vineyard at 1800 feet

young French Plum trees (the property has more mature ones throughout as well). French Plum trees attract beneficial moths that help keep undesirable pest populations down throughout the vineyard.

an owl feather on the edge of the vineyard. Hawks hunt ground pests that would eat roots during the day, owls at night. Bird boxes and perches are found throughout the vineyards encouraging birds of various sizes and types to populate the area.

Cabernet was planted on the hillsides in 2000 and 2001, after walking the property and taking soil samples. Vine at 2200 feet. The Cabernet clones they grow–337 and 15–produce tiny clusters with lots of skin, and little juice offering good concentration of flavor. Set this alongside the heat and wind pushing through the area and you get wine that showcases distinct fruit flavors coupled with grounding spice and earthy notes.

Mitch Hawkins operates Hawk and Horse Vineyards as both Demeter Biodynamic Certified, and CCOF Organic Certified. Mitch and Tracey had agreed to start the vineyard as organic from the beginning, but after doing extensive research, Tracey realized she wanted to focus on Biodynamic practices as well. As a result, the vines have been developed as both from inception.

an important aspect of Biodynamic Certification is recognizing the holistic nature of the ranch and farm. As such, the entire facility is certified, not just the vineyard sites. Scottish Highland cattle are recognized as an important element of Biodynamic practices. Hawk and Horse has a beautiful smaller size (as in height) herd that I fell in love with.

the 2007 Red Hills Lake Country Cabernet Sauvignon carries a beautiful rose oil and cocoa nose alongside spice and dark fruit, with a palate that follows. The flavors here are well-integrated and well balanced. Across each of the wines tasted there is a distinctive red dirt-dust scent and light flavor that I find pleasing as well, and have tasted in other Cabernets grown on similar soils.

the red volcanic soil–an ultra fine powder

both award winning Cabernets. The 2008 has a slightly darker, and fuller bodied presentation to the 2007.

the family decided to try a Cabernet Sauvignon dessert wine made with Germain Robin craft brandy for fortification. The wine starts with 26 months in new French oak, with the 2006 arising out of Tracey Hawkins love for Port. The result was exactly what she’d hoped, and after a two year hiatus from the project (to see if the original was worth drinking), they now intend to keep making the wine. I was impressed by how well integrated the various elements of this wine are–the berries stand up to the brandy, the oak complements the alcohol, there is a nice cigar nose, followed by a dried berry palate, and caramel cream texture. The elements here are in harmony with each other.

the property is also home to horses with the family training and riding as avid Rodeo competitors. This year’s colt.

Tracey has spent a lot of time working with the colt to help make him comfortable with people and ready to train. He’s a lovely, friendly horse.

I was able to share the 2007 Cabernet later with my friends Robin and Dierk. We all really loved it.

Thank you to Mitch and Tracey Hawkins for your generosity.

Thank you to Julie Ann Kodmur.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com