Friday, 29 August 2014

Wine Review - Bay of Fires 2012 Riesling

Tasting Note
Wet straw and red grapefruit aromas interplayed with typical Rieseling gasoline nose. Slight spritz on the tongue and oily, rounded mouthfeel with crisp lime flavour. Well presented, classic style.
Tasted: 27 August 2014


Stats
Alcohol: 12.5%
Price: $32.00
Closure: Screwcap
Winemaker: Peter Dredge

Regionality
Tasmania - fruit from Derwent Valley and Coal River Valley

Pairing
I enjoyed this wine with a seared tuna steak accompanied by a grapefruit and canelli bean salad.
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I would love to hear your feedback if you have also tried this wine - what did you think?

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Cabernet Heaven at the Coonawarra Wine Tasting Roadshow

Coonawarra is synonymous with quality Cabernet Sauvignon in Australia, thanks to its famous Terra Rossa soil. This rich, red soil,along with limestone minerality, purity of the water table and a cool ripening season combine to create a prized terroir that is renowned for luscious, complex and age-worthy Cabernets.

Each year, the vignerons of the iconic Coonawarra wine region undertake an epic tour around Australian capital cities to showcase their wares. Little old Perth all the way over in the West is often neglected when it comes to such undertakings, but this time, we were in luck (sorry Darwin and Canberra!).

From previous attendees, I had been warned that the Roadshow could get a little out of hand in terms of number of people and  level of sobriety. So I arrived early and with a game plan. I would attend the stalls of my 'must visit' wineries first and only sample Cabernet Sauvignon to keep my palate on track (ended up failing on the latter point).

Wine Bottle USB - novelty item!
With the warning of overcrowding in mind, I was surprised and impressed with how the evening unfolded. The crowds were a mere trickle at the start time of 5pm and slowly built to a manageable peak around 6.30pm.

Perks of the evening were the wine bottle USB sticks that each attendee received, as well as palate-calibrating bread sticks available at each stall. Water jugs were topped up regularly and spittoons were emptied before becoming over-full. All these logistical tasks were conducted smoothly and efficiently without disturbing tastings and talking. Kudos to the organisers!

There were a number of producers for whom the reputation of their wine preceded them, and others who I was delighted to discover on the evening. Something that really impressed me was the recurring story around the room about the response to the 2011 Vintage. Almost every producer I was lucky enough to meet proudly declared that they had made the difficult decision to either downgrade or not produce in 2011 to uphold the quality and consistency of their wines and retain the confidence of their loyal consumers.

Here is my rundown on the best on show (in my opinion):

Zema Estate
A smart and concise lineup with a philosophy of aged releases - wines are not released until they are ready to drink. Based upon this fact, their prices were surprisingly approachable. Zema's standout wine was the 2008 Family Selection Cabernet Sauvignon with bold black fruits, powerful tannins and a plush mouthfeel.

Katnook Estate
The Estate wines showed skillful use of oak in the reds and the Collectors Series really raised the bar. I could not choose between the elegant and complex The Caledonian 2012 (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Shiraz, 10% Petit Verdot, 5% Tannat) and the earthy, smoky black olive and mocha undertones peppering the dark fruit of the Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon 2009.
Brand's Laira
With plantings dating back 110 years, Brand's Laira wines are crafted to last the distance.  It was an inspired decision to have the 2006 'Blockers' Cabernet Sauvignon available for tasting (current release is 2012). The rich prune and black fruits, with lovely spice and fine tannins suggested that this wine has plenty of legs left and goes to show that there is quality and backbone in Coonawarra Cabernet at all price points.

Petaluma
I am still raving about the 2010 Merlot. It is worth every extra penny you will have to fork out, with its uplifting mint chocolate and licorice aromatics and luscious red and black fruit. The best Merlot I have tasted in Australia (big call, I know - perhaps I need to drink more Merlot?). Their other wines are similarly outstanding.


The 2012 Coonawarra Merlot was incontrast to Petaluma's, having bright red cherry and strawberry aromas, and a lean and tart, but  elegant structure. Their wines had a slightly gamey theme running through them.


Balnaves of Coonawarra
Of course, who could go past Balnaves' Reserve Cabernet? The Tally has been listed as Outstanding with Langton's Classification in 2010 and 2014, and rightly so. I had the opportunity to taste both the 2008 and 2010 Tally, both which delivered with rich fruit, sweet oak and fine, grainy tannins, at various stages of secondary development. Yum.

Rymill
The influence of French winemaker Sandrine Gimon is evident in the accomplished lineup at Rymill. From the food-friendly 2012 mc2 (48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40%Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc) through to the peppery punch of the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, there is a power and elegance to these wines that had me swallowing instead of spitting. Managing Director John Rymill was definitely the most jovial and engaging host of the evening.

To cap off an excellent event, I thoroughly enjoyed having a go at the blind tasting being conducted by Sarah Andrew, who is the Director of Selador Wines. She is currently undertaking research with the support of WSET (for whom she is a Certified Educator and Diploma recipient) looking into which characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon are preferred by consumers and why. She hopes her research will assist vignerons, such as those in Coonawarra, to focus upon these characteristics in their viticultural and winemaking practices to enhance the drinkability and, ultimately, saleability of their wines.

Blind Tasting - All 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
So whether you have already fallen in love with the power and complexity of a good Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, or if the wines I have described tickle your fancy, I recommend keeping an eye out for next year's Coonawarra Roadshow.

Even better, plan a trip to the region - it's definitely on my bucket list!

Friday, 22 August 2014

Pinot Paradise in Tasmania's Derwent Valley

There is a little section of the Derwent River, just outside the town of Grantham, where some very lucky grapes are grown. Both red and whites have their favourite soil types available and everything is protected by the tempering effect of Mt Wellington. Hobart is the driest capital in Australia and the proximity to the ocean results in a more consistent temperature range (but always cold!). Although it is not an 'official' wine region, the little pocket of Derwent Valley is producing some outstanding wines with their own particular nuances.

John Schuts is leading the helm at Derwent Estate in their new state of the art production facility which opened for Vintage 2014. You can already tell that John is making new waves at the winery; a perfect example being the 2012 Unfiltered Pinot Noir.

From an outsider perspective, Derwent Estate appear to focus their funds and energy into grape growing and wine production, rather than any flashy cellar door sales and marketing tactics. The rambling old country cottage that serves as the cellar door has squeaky floorboards and a marked lack of warmth in winter, but the wines speak for themselves. 

Not only that, but the likes of Penfolds have cottoned on to the amazing micro-climate that exists on the Estate, sourcing Chardonnay fruit for their luxury Penfolds Yattarna  from the property. Yattarna is a more recent addition to the Icon and Luxury Collection and evolved from a program to establish the white equivalent of Penfolds Grange by sourcing cool-climate Chardonnay from quality locations in southern Australia.

Derwent Estate's Rustic Cellar Door
Here is a quick overview of my tasting notes from our visit to Derwent Estate:

2013 Riesling 
Toasted brioche nose, quite a rounded palate with creamy acid (3.5g/L sugar).

2013 Sauvignon Blanc and 2013 Pinot Gris 
Both use partial barrel fermentation and skin contact to impart some phenolics into the wine, providing structure and herbal pungency.

2012 Chardonnay
The standout (as one would hope/expect), being markedly different to many other Tasmanian Chardonnays with a yoghurty creaminess and fine, toasty oak influence. The wine undergoes 100% malolactic fermentation but there is still some tingling acid.

2012 Pinot vs 2012 Unfiltered Pinot 
The filtered version was quite chalky with some red fruit, but a powerful gaminess and spiciness. On the other hand, the unfiltered version had significantly darker fruits and had an earthy texture with 'dirtier' tannins, making it more rustic, but for me, more approachable.

Conveniently, our next destination,Stefano Lubiana Wines, is basically next door to Derwent Estate. I had been looking forward to lunch in their new Osteria for quite a while, as I have been a fan of their wines ever since our first trip to Tasmania.

Stefano and his wife Monique have achieved Biodynamic Certification for their vineyards, but they don't obsessively push the point. It just works. The

Here are my tasting notes for the standout wines from Stefano Lubiana's comprehensive offering:

2012 'Black Label' Riesling
Maturation in 100% old oak and close to 5g/L residual sugar results in excellent palate weight and some stone fruits creeping in with the green fruit to create a complex wine.

2013 Sauvignon Blanc  
Deserves a mention due to 6 months lees contact. It is still a lean wine and bursting with some lovely lychee and passionfruit notes.

2011 Estate Chardonnay 
Perfectly balanced, aromas of warm, freshly-cracked macadamias with the freshness of crisp citrus fruits.

2012 Estate Pinot Noir 
Fine tannins, excellent oak integration, red and black fruits and some phenolics to push along the structure. I will definitely be holding some in the cellar for a few years! 
 
2008 Pinot range: 'Selection 1/3, 2/3 and 3/3' 
2008 was an excellent vintage (warmer year) so the Lubianas decided to make a series of wines with different treatments. The 1/3 is a more 'feminine' (or elegant) wine and then the next two are increasingly masculine variations, with some whole bunch addition and heavier oak (which is only possible in warmer years when the grapes show more fruit forward flavours).

Our tasting was conducted by Monique Lubiana, who was attentive and patient (I always ask loads of questions), despite it being a busy Saturday at the Cellar Door. During our discussions, I was excited to learn that her son Marco will be releasing his yet unnamed label very soon - watch this space!

After the tasting, it was time for lunch. I selected a glass of the 2005 Vintage Brut as an aperitif as this was not available for tasting. The wine has definitely had a good level of lees contact and the gorgeous deep gold colour followed through with beautiful caramel and biscuit flavours dancing with the acidity that only Tasmanian vineyards can achieve. 

It was an absolute delight to eat at the Osteria. My brother and sister who currently live in Tasmania were joining my husband and I, which made the occasion even more special. The homely Italian cooking took me back to our family trip to Italy a few years ago. Our antipasto platter was spot on, with a variety of dried meats, succulent sardines, a kale and potato flan and beautiful olives. The selection of mains was limited, but the lamb was a hit with the men, the truffles in my siste'spasta were absolutely decadent and I also loved my rich minestrone.

Minestrone for lunch at Stefano Lubiana's Osteria
My brother and husband finished off with a digestif of Grappa, but not just any old grappa, this one was made solely from the skins of the muscatel grape. Unfortunately, although this provided a refreshingly floral aroma to the drink, it did not serve to mask the knock-your-socks off spirit of the Grappa itself!

Family Catch up at Stefano Lubiana
The tiny and intimate seating of the Osteria, near the crackling wood fire, was a perfect setting for a family catch up and to reflect on the excellent wines we had tried that day. As you can see, there really is something special happening in the Derwent Valley - make sure you visit soon, before the secret is out!

Monday, 18 August 2014

A Tour of Tasmanian Wine without leaving Hobart

I am very lucky to have married into a family hailing from Hobart. My husband and I do our best to make it over to the Apple Isle at least once a year to visit everyone and it is always wonderful to spend some quality time with family. As it is a long way from Perth to Hobart, we also try and squeeze in a few other activities whilst we are there.

Of course, at the top of my list of Tasmanian experiences is wine tasting. Not a trip has gone by that I have not discovered a new hidden gem, relishing in the cool-climate wine styles and the gorgeous scenery when driving to the numerous cellar doors that are in easy driving distance of both Hobart and Launceston. I have just arrived back from our most recent trip with my pockets significantly lighter and my wine collection significantly larger!

As we prepared for this recent trip, I had been doing some reading to see if there were any new cellar doors that had popped up in the last year or so. I was aware that our time at wineries would be limited, however I was determined to discover something new. It was then that I learnt of Gasworks Cellar Door, situated in the heart of the historic dock precinct in Hobart.

The striking chimney and sandstone facade of the old gasworks has always been a visual marker for me when navigating my way around Hobart. The Cellar Door building is a beautifully refurbished version of the original Gasworks Head Office, the administrative centre which facilitated coal fired power generation for Hobart city for many years.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by wine expert James Hordern who ran us through the tasting format. Of the 16 wines housed in their shiny enomatic wine preservation system, we could choose to have a sample (25mL) of 12, a taste (50mL) of 6 or a glass (100mL) of 3 for the small cost of $10. No prizes for guessing the option we chose! Having 12 tastes each worked out well, as we shared a few of the tastings so that we actually managed to experience all 16 wines available. 

James was an excellent host, providing a thorough overview of each wine as we tasted, including the winery's background and style and the characteristics of the region, all interspersed with a wealth of facts about the Tasmanian wine industry. Did you know that Tasmanian wine represents a tiny 0.5% of Australia's annual crush? 

70% of Tasmania's annual vintage consists of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which is utilised both for sparkling wine production (think Jansz, Bay of Fires, House of Arras) and table wines. There are at least six key wine producing areas in Tasmania but, to simplify matters, Gasworks break down their collection and displays into three rooms, with each one focusing on a different demographic: North (Tamar Valley, Pipers River), South (Coal River Valley, Derwent Valley, Huon Valley) and East (The East Coast).
Each of the rooms is beautifully set out with the relevant wines displayed in cabinets, whilst the walls are adorned with maps and viticulture information for the region. It would be easy to spend a few hours wandering around learning a thing or two about the different cool climate varietals (Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris are notable mentions). Even if you have tasted extensively throughout mainland Australia, I can guarantee that Tasmanian wine will have you fascinated by the unique varietal expression and also the diversity in styles achieved across this small island.



In regards to the wine selection available, there was no discrimination between the big producers and the boutique wineries. Benchmark-worthy Chardonnay from the widely acclaimed Josef Chromy and seamless Cabernet from Domaine A was interspersed with a quirky 'Breakfast Pinot' from Roaring Beach and a delightful Gewurztraminer Sticky from Spring Vale

I tend to be drawn towards the classic cool-climate varieties when it comes to Tasmanian wines. My stand-out Riesling from the tasting was the Riversdale Estate 2011, hailing from Coal River Valley, which I described as 'lemon marmalade on toast', with its complex citrus flavours and mealy mouth feel. Tasmanians also seem to give Pinot Gris a good go, with the North West region's White Rock Pinot Gris 2013 providing an intriguing example, with its honeyed nose and an array of ginger and white spice on the palate. From the East Coast, I could not go past the Spring Vale Pinot Noir 2012, made in a Burgundian style. It was earthy but refined, with an absolutely silky mouth feel.

Our purchasing decision was daunting, as each wine we tasted had its own merits. Further to this, there was a whole suite of wines we had not even tried. However, the fact that we could send a half dozen or dozen wines of our choice back to Perth for free allowed us to grab a few bottles for the cellar (it is not often that there is no freight charge at all, especially all the way back to the West).

Gasworks Cellar Door has an ever-changing line up of 16 Tasmanian wines for tasting, representing 81 Tasmanian vineyards. It really is a 'one stop cellar door' where you can experience wines from all the major winegrowing regions of Tasmania, without ever leaving the Hobart CBD.  A perfect solution for those with limited time or a great way to kick-start your Tasmanian wine adventure.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Why I recommend taking a Wine Course

Having recently finished my Level 2 Wines and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) course (pending exam results), I would like to share with you the benefits of undertaking some wine education. No matter what your level of experience is with wine, there is something available at all levels - the only prerequisite is that you are interested to learn more about wine! Even if you only drink wine on occasions, it may still be worthwhile, as I am sure you will find at least one style of vino that suits your taste.

So why not just drink wine? 
Why go to the bother of undertaking some formal education on the topic?


From my experience, I have found that learning more about wine increases your appreciation of it and elevates the enjoyment of every future wine drinking experience. Once you learn a little, it can become quite addictive, as the world of wine is neverending and everchanging, so there is always something new to learn. 

There are many styles of wine education available, depending upon your level of interest, your budget and your aspirations.

Navigating the Bottle Shop

Perhaps you simply want to learn some basics so that you don't feel so overwhelmed when you drop into your local bottle-o. Maybe that feeling is due the sheer number and variety of wines available, often with no clear indication on the label to suggest what the contents of the bottle will taste like? Or is it because you don't want to ask the shop assistant due to either embarassment at your perceived lack of knowledge, or they are  barely of drinking age? 

Either way, there are many easily-accessible wine introduction courses out there, it's just a matter of looking around your local area. Most small independent/boutique liquor retailers have a series of regular wine appreciation evenings available if you sign up to their mailing list. Many wineries these days are also starting to offer some form of wine introduction session, which is often conducted in a small group and likely under $50 per person. If you are lucky enough to live close to a wine region, even if your local vigneron does not blatantly advertise such opportunities, likelihood is they would be happy to take you and a group of friends through a private guided tasting for a small fee - all you need do is ask. 

Impressing Your Friends

This could also be phrased as 'not being embarassed in front of your friends', depending upon the level of wine knowledge within your friendship circle. Due to my high level of interest in wine, I often find that when out with friends at a restaurant or bar or when dropping over for dinner, the choice of wine defaults to me, as it is assumed I will know what is best. This can be quite daunting, as wine is such a personal thing and it is most difficult to find a wine that will suit everyone's taste in a large group and also match the food at the same time! So, if for no other reason, it is nice to learn which styles of wine you like and which are more 'easy drinking', as these styles are the best for that weekend BBQ invite.

Even a basic understanding of the major wine varieties and regions can be gained during WSET Level 1, which can be taken over a weekend. This will arm you with adequate knowledge to decipher your average Australian wine label and obtain a good indication of quality within your price bracket. There are quite a few key descriptive words that can guide you to a fair idea of the contents of the bottle. Such a course will also provide you with some excellent tips on tasting wine, serving wine and storing wine appropriately to ensure you get the most out of the experience, no matter how small your budget. Also, the more you talk to others who are interested in wine, the more tips you will get on good wines to look out for.

If you don't have the time (or the energy) to attend a face to face course, there are some excellent options that you can watch and follow at your own leisure right from your couch. The Everyday Guide to Wine by Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan MW is one that I have watched and followed with great enjoyment recently. It's also fun if you get a group of friends together for something like this, making it a shared experience.

Having Confidence in Your Purchases

The best advice I can give you is to keep buying and tasting more wine. Not really a daunting thing to have to do really! But just make sure you do this over time, not all in one go:

As your experience of wine broadens, your palate will become more attuned to different grape varieties, styles and quality indicators. However, I should warn you, your taste will likely become more expensive too...

There are quite a number of simple methods for self-education:
  • Attend free wine tastings at bottle shops.
  • Holiday in wine areas so you can 'try before you buy' at the cellar door (as well as hopefully getting to learn straight from the producers).
  • Join a tasting group in your area.
  • Start a tasting group with your friends.
  • Read some books on wine.
There are many enjoyable novels out there about wine appreciation, a few I have read recently include: Through a Sparkling Glass: An AZ of the Wonderland of Wine (by Australian Andrea Frost); Red, White and Drunk All Over (by American Natalie MacLean) and Into Wine (by Frenchman Olivier Magny). All three books are not only informative, but also light-hearted and inspirational.

Starting a Wine Collection or Investing in Wine

If you are looking to get serious about wine, to the point where it will have a significant affect on your own bottom line, I would suggest it is about time to start investing some serious time and energy into your wine education. This does not have to be a daunting prospect. As an example, my WSET Level 2 course involved just 2-3 hours on a Monday evening over 9 weeks, with a short 50-question multiple choice exam as the conclusion. At the same time, it was an extremely cost-effective way to try some exotic and expensive wines, without having to pay for the whole bottle.

To avoid it seeming that I am biased towards WSET courses, please remember I am simply speaking here from my recent experience. There are many other options out there, depending upon where you live and what is available near you. Some other globally recognised wine education institutions include the International Sommelier Guild (ISG), Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) and Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS).

Working in the Wine Industry

As per above, when wine becomes part of your job, some formal education is only going to improve your career prospects. In this instance, it's likely that you will also be wanting to ensure that the course you undertake is widely recognised so that it looks good on your resume. Of course, the another positive is that you should also be able to claim your course at tax time. 

In this case, the reason for undertaking wine study extends beyond your own enjoyment and understanding of wine, as it will likely influence that of your customers or clients. The more passion and knowledge of wine you can confidently and informedly pass on to others, the more rewarding wine will become as a complete experience for you. 

In fact, that is why I write this blog!

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Pruning Lessons

I have never had a 'green thumb'. In fact, I'm pretty sure I may have accidentally pulled out a plant of my mother's when helping her weed the garden as a child. So it was with excitement, but also some apprehension, that I embarked on my first day of pruning a vineyard.

I was relieved to learn that we would be pruning the Merlot, considered one of the easier vine varieties to prune. Furthermore, it is used for a less expensive wine, would have less of a financial implication if my novice skills had an impact on grape growth. Two other aspects to make the first time easier were: the rows were on a flat and I was using some electric secateurs. 

I was just starting to feel more comfortable about the task at hand when I was warned that, if I cut any wires by accident, I would owe either a carton of beer or a bottle of French Champagne. That's one way to ensure people concentrate, I guess!

Pruning Rookie in Action
Before starting off, I was given a brief rundown and demonstration of what was required. Basically, you need to ensure there is around one hand's width between each 'spur' (which is a nodule protruding from one of the two trellised 'cordons' of the vine). You should choose to keep spurs that are nice and healthy, not woody and brittle, and that look to be pointing fairly vertically upwards. These measures are to ensure the canes (thinner branches) of the vine grow evenly along the arms and train themselves close to the wires. Once you have selected a spur and removed all those in the nearby area, the next step is to cut it back to only two buds. If too many buds are left on, the vine will be too vigorous in shooting and will be overcrowded, resulting in lower quality or underdeveloped grapes.

Grapevine Anatomy
 It was really quite enjoyable spending a day out in the sunshine between the vines. However, I can imagine that the novelty would soon wear off when undertaking this task for many days in a row or on very steep slopes (as is quite common in parts of Europe). I must say that my inexperienced hands were blistered and sore by the end of Day 2, but that was a small price to pay in order to learn the craft of pruning. 

After a while, I was getting into a good rhythm and the spur/bud selection was becoming much more automatic. I had also managed to get through without cutting any wires (or fingers) - whew!

pruned rows of vines (left) but more rows to go (right)

I hope that my employers were satisfied with my efforts and will let me out in the vines on other occasions so that I can hone my skills and pick up my pace. As with any task, when it comes to pruning - practice makes perfect!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

US Pinot Masterclass

The countdown has begun - only 1 month until I arrive in Canada for my second vintage experience of 2014!

Part of the preparation for my trip has been to start tasting some wines from North America. Luckily, Grand Cru Wineshop and Cellar were holding a US Pinot Noir Masterclass. Now, I know this might sound irrelevant, as I am actually going to be working in Canada; but where I will be working is only 13km north of the US border. Plus, my husband and some other close friends will be joining me on a two-week trip through American wine country from Seattle to San Francisco, so some research into which wineries to visit was a compulsory prerequisite.

Reproduced from wine blog: Mumu les Vignes
Grand Cru Wineshop often holds wine education events, but I have never been able to attend before, so that alone was quite exciting. The host for the night was Stephen Naughton, who is the Managing Director of Pinot Now, a leading Australian importer of rare pinot varietal wines from both Old and New world regions. Since founding the company, Stephen has developed a reputation as Australia's leading figure on US Pinot, in particular wines from Oregon.

Grand Cru Cellar
Walking down the steps at the back of the wine shop into the cellar was like stepping back into an old Spanish bodega. The room is dimly lit in the corners, with each wall housing a beautiful display of wines. I surely could have spent hours in there perusing the racks. Each of the sixteen guests had a beautifully presented tasting mat waiting for them upon arrival, with all ten wines poured and labelled. There was also a lovely spread of salumi, olives and Italian breads to keep our palates sharp during the course of the tasting.

Tasting Table
The tasting format for the evening was fairly informal, with the ten wines being tasted across four brackets, guided by Stephen. He did not give away too much before we jumped into our analysis of each bracket, leaving his commentary for after we had tasted and provided feedback. Although there were a few distractions from people commencing their vinous discussions whilst others were trying to concentrate on tasting, I guess at least everyone was enthusiastic.

We kicked off with a grape variety I had never encountered before - Auxerrois (pronounced ox-e-wa). The winery of origin, Adelsheim Vineyard is a pioneer of the Oregon wine region, planting their first Willamette Valley vineyards in the early 1970s. The wine was highly acidic, with flavours of grapefruit and lemon pith and had some lovely floral aromatics. Interestingly, as it sat in our glasses, a hint of musty blue cheese flavour developed.

Next was a Chardonnay from La Crema. This is one of the larger players on the Oregon winemaking scene, with extensive vineyards across the subregions of the area. Stephen slipped two of their wines into the lineup to give us an idea of what larger-scale Chardonnay and Pinot production looks like. The Chardonnay had bold oak, woodiness and very little fruit. It was rich, full-bodied and creamy, so I can see why many Chardonnay drinkers would be happy to sit back with a glass, however there was little fruit or acidity left to support further aging of the wine.

abbreviated version of my tasting notes

The La Crema Pinot had a little more happening for it, however I again found that it was ready to drink now, as opposed to the King's Ridge Pinot Noir we tasted alongside it. There was toasty oak, ripe red fruit and pepper, in contrast to the chalky, smoky cherry flavours present in the King's Ridge (which I think will last longer).

I thoroughly enjoyed the third tasting bracket, as there were two wines from the same producer and one from another winery which they also part own. Thus, it was the different vineyards and vintages speaking from the glasses. Although you will see in my tasting notes below that I rated the Chehalem 3 Vineyard lowest, I think it is just biding its time and will become more expressive in coming years.  It definitely has the acidity and fruit there to last.

There were some interesting tidbits to learn from the fourth bracket. Beaux Freres is co-owned by revered and controversial wine critic Robert Parker who, Stephen commented, has been excellent in his media impartiality when it comes to the winery. I was very impressed with the characteristics and expression of this wine and would definitely kick back next to the fire with a glass (if I could afford/justify the price tag!). The Ponzi wines are the brainchild of Dick Ponzi, who was originally a rocket scientist, worked for NASA, then moved on to design many of the rides at Disneyland before following his passion for wine! Unfortunately, my sample (along with a few others) was cloudy in the glass - I had picked up a whiff of 'salami' which was a bit odd! Therefore, I have not ranked this wine but instead have mentioned the 'bonus' wine from Haden Fig that Grand Cru were considerate enough to provide us to make up for the issue.

After we had tasted through all the wines, Stephen gave us a quick climatic overview of the Willamette Valley. Being a marginal climate, there is significant reliance on rain arriving at the right time (it is often too close for comfort to harvest!) and also relies upon a natural wind tunnel to moderate the temperature. 

His tips for best vintages in recent times were interesting. Supposedly the winemakers consider 2011 as being one of the greatest yet, as it was a cooler year, allowing them to come closer to their ultimate goal of finesse and elegance of expression. On the other hand, he is fairly certain the wine press are on the verge of proclaiming 2012 as the 'Best Vintage Ever'. This was a much warmer year and, although the wines may have more power and intensity in their youth, he does not think they will stand the test of time as well as the 2011s will. Prior to that, you will not find much 2010 wines from the region, as there was a significant issue with 'bird ravage', however 2008 and 2009 were considered excellent vintages.

Although US Pinot is a limited commodity in Western Australia, Grand Cru Wineshop holds the largest range, with over 40 labels available. So if you are interested in branching out from your usual Central Otago or Burgundy Pinot, or you are keen to find a more affordable option, it's definitely worth a look in.