Gruet 2008 Pinot Noir from New Mexico

The Gruet 2008 pinot noir from New Mexico is an incredible bargain.  Gruet Winery in Albuquerque has been known and respected for their sparkling wines for many years.  On a recent visit to Beverages & More (BevMo) we ran across the 2008 pinot and picked up a bottle.  For one of the few times, the tasting notes on the Gruet website are right on the money: “focused black cherry, plum, anises and floral notes framed by light oak. It finishes with a pretty berry and mineral edge.”

Pricing is an issue.  Although the Gruet website describes the 2008 vintage, the only prices listed are for the 2007.  BevMo says the regular retail price is $25.99.  But Club Bev members can buy this amazing wine for $17.41.  Get yours now before they sell out!

Oregon Wineries: Nine of the Best for Pinot Noir

Here are nine of the many good pinot noir  producing Oregon wineries we just visited on at 6 day visit to the Willamette Region.  Any pinot noir from one of these wineries would be a safe good choice at a restaurant or wine shop. ( Future posts will identify more good pinot producers.)

Foris Vineyards Winery (Cave Junction in the Rogue River Valley). We bought a bottle of their 2008 pinot noir off the shelf in a supermarket.  What a surprise.  Berry aromas and an explosion of fruit on the palate.  Price from the winery website: $19.  A best buy.

A to Z Wine Works (Dundee).  “Aristocratic wines at democratic prices.”  A to Z became our “go to” pinot.  We consumed several bottles of their 2009 ($20 on the website).  Another best buy for those who want a little complexity.  Another best buy.

Wine by Joe (Dundee).  Who could resist?  And why should we?  My notes say, “pretty darn good.”  Another bargain at $19.  Trader Joe’s shoppers should look for VinTJs pinot noir from the Willamette Valley.  Joe does the work for Trader Joe.  No relation.

Lange Estate Tasting Room

Lange Estate Tasting Room

Lange Estate Winery and Vineyards (18380 NE Buena Vista Drive, Dundee, Oregon 97115).  If you go to the tasting room, drive a Jeep or some other vehicle with high road clearance.  Google maps shows Lange as 3.2 miles from downtown Dundee.  However, the last 1.7 miles are on an increasingly rough gravel road.  BUT it’s worth the trip. Their 2009 Reserve ($32) was cherry and soft tannins with mineral aromas.  The 2007 Lange Estate ($60) started with smoke aromas, then mineral and plum flavors.  The 2009 Three Hills Cuvee ($40) is fruit, fruit, and more fruit.  As long as you’ve made the trip, stop at

The View from Lange and Torii Mor

The View from Lange and Torii Mor

Torii Mor Tasting Room

Torii Mor Tasting Room

Torii Mor on the way back.  Their 2008 Chehalem Mountain Select ($40) is very nice.  And the winery itself is spectacular.  Like Lange, Torii Mor shares spectacular views of Mt. Hood on clear days.  The architecture is rustic Oriental zen, complete with Japanese sand gardens (one of which was sorely in need of a Buddhist practitioner).  The photo below gives a small sample of what you’ll find.  By the way, torii is the Japanese word for the entrance to a garden.  Mor is Celtic for earth.  An interesting juxtaposition that gives the flavor of the terroir.

The gravel roads here are one lane and pretty rugged.  Drive slowly and be prepared to pull over to let cars get past.  As we were leaving Torii Mor we stopped at the entrance to consult a map.  Another brave soul coming from the direction of Lange was impatient to get in.  We moved quickly.

The staff at Torii Mor is extremely friendly and encourages guests to explore the property.  The photo above was taken at the edge of the deck overlooking the valley.

Twelve has a tasting room in downtown McMinnville.  The winery itself is in Carlton, an absolute must visit if you’re in the area.  More on Carlton in a future post.  Twelve offered seven different pinots, three of which were labeled 144 (12 squared for non-math geeks).  We liked the 2008 version of 144 ($35) best, but would not have turned down any of the seven we tasted.

Twelve Tasting Room

Twelve Tasting Room



Chehalem Winery Tasting Room

Chehalem Winery Tasting Room

Chehalem Wines (tasting room in Newberg) offers the 2009 3 vineyard ($27).  Smoke and rose petals on the nose with lots of spice and a long, smooth finish.  If you go, try to arrive around lunchtime.  There is a food truck called “Uprooted” parked semi-permanently in their lot.  This is a converted Airstream trailer.  We had an arugula salad with an avocado bacon sandwich.  Outstanding and highly recommended.  (They are @uprooted1 on Twitter if they move.)

Uprooted Ambiance

Uprooted Ambiance


David Hill Tasting Room

David Hill Tasting Room

David Hill Winery and Vineyard (46350 NW David Hill Road Forest Grove, OR 97116).  Another long dirt road.  Make sure your cell phone is charged because you might have to call them for directions when you’re nearby.  It’s easy to miss the small turnoff that leads down into a wonderful valley.  We sampled their 2008 Estate ($16), the 2007 Estate Barrel Select ($22), and the 2007 Estate Reserve ($32).  Any of them is a bargain.  If you’re looking for a real deal try the Farmhouse Red ($11).  The winery is a big old farmhouse in the middle of a large valley covered with grapevines.  Even if you don’t like wine it’s worth the trip just for the views.

Elk Cove Vineyards (27751 NW Olson Road, Gaston, OR 97119).  We encountered these folks at IPNC.  Their pinots were so good we decided they deserved a visit.  We were not disappointed.  They poured their 2008 Willamette Valley ($27), a 2009 Mount Richmond ($48), and a 2009 Five Mountain ($48).  The Five Mountain is notable for a hint of lime aroma.  All three are excellent.  The Willamette Valley qualifies as a best buy, even at the price.

That’s enough for today.  More later.


Hartford Family Winery: August’s Featured Vintner

The travel section of the August 21 San Jose Mercury-News had a column on the town of Forestville, a village on the west edge of the Sonoma Valley.  We know Forestville quite well because we visit regularly to see one of our favorite wineries: Hartford Family Winery.

Hartford makes excellent pinot noir, chardonnay and zinfandel

The Merc’s columnist Carole Terwilliger Meyer described Hartford as having, “a pinot for everybody.”  She must have missed their excellent chardonnays and zinfandels (although the last few have topped 15% alcohol, a little high for us old folks).  We’ve been proud members of the Hartford wine club for quite a few years.  Last summer, my brother Tom and his wife Ginger were visiting.  After tasting a few Hartford wines they signed up for the club on the spot!

Throng of wine club guests at the Hartford Winery Xmas party

Ms. Meyers mentioned two specific pinots: the Far Coast vineyard 2007 and the Arrendell Vineyard 2008.  Either Hartford or the Merc must have been picking up the tab.  The Far Coast page doesn’t list a price, but the Arrendell goes for a cool $85 per bottle.  We’re lucky enough to have a couple of bottles of Arrendell in our cellar so we can say from experience that it’s fairly priced.  We were also pleased to see the return of the Fog Dance Vineyard 2008 on the pinot list.   At $55 it’s about the lowest-priced Hartford wine you can get.

The scene at the Hartford Winery Xmas wine club party

We try to attend the Hartford Christmas party every year.  Good food, good wine, and great company.  Don Hartford is actually the winemaker and the son-in-law of the late Jess Jackson.  He really knows his stuff and would rather refuse to release a wine than sell you something less than excellent.  Highly recommended.

The Hartford Wine Club Xmas party takes place indoors and on the patio at sunset

IPNC: Worth a Visit

IPNC is the International Pinot Noir Celebration held in McMinnville, Oregon (distant suburb of Portland)  near the end of July.  We just attended the 25th one, but only  the Sunday (July 31) “Passport to Pinot” grand tasting.  Alas, we had to miss the famously well-loved salmon and wine feast on Saturday night.

For wineries, this is a “by invitation” event.  Wineries have to submit an application and sample bottles of the one pinot noir they will pour at the event.

25th IPNC, the shady oak grove

Sipping in the shady oak grove

A complete wine tasting report will be coming in a couple of weeks, but for now, here’s the scoop: this event is worth attending at least once in your life. For Californians, it’s worth the trip.  IPNC is lively, informative, outdoors, and relatively accessible. It is held at Linfield College in a cool and shady oak grove. Hay bales create a fence around the perimeter of the small grove, about 500 yards in diameter.  Attendance is splendidly limited to about 300 guests. For wineries, this is a “by invitation” event.  Wineries have to submit an application and sample bottles of the one pinot noir they will pour at the event. There is fierce competition for IPNC recognition and for the brand exposure to 300 serious wine-lovers.  IPNC is an opportunity to taste wines from wineries that don’t even have tasting by appointment — for example, Shea.

The event runs from 1 to 5pm. There are about 20 food purveyors, mainly local restaurants, that serve delicious fare, hot and cold, savory and sweet all afternoon.  These booths are interspersed between about 40 booths for wineries.  There is an “intermission” at 3pm when a new set of 40 wineries replaces the first set.  So you can taste about 80 wines!

IPNC is an opportunity to taste wines from wineries that don’t even have tasting by appointment — for example, Shea… this is perhaps the most relaxed and pleasant venue for experiencing new  luxury pinot noirs on the west coast.

There is a bandstand for a smooth jazz band that played several sets.  There is plenty of water around and lots tables with shady umbrellas.  At the exit is a coffee and expresso booth to send you on your way at 5pm.  For wine consumers, this is perhaps the most relaxed and pleasant venue for experiencing new  luxury pinot noirs on the west coast.



If you plan ahead (many thanks to Norma for her incredible advance research) you can easily make it worth the $150 per person admission.

More later.

Pinot Days 2011: So Many Pinots …

Despite an estimated 1,000 attendees and 220 pinot noir wineries at the June 18 event, the space at  Ft. Mason center was large enough that we didn’t feel cramped or rushed during our tasting.  This year the organizers rented the Festival Pavilion.    (The 2010 event was at the Herbst Pavilion, a mere 30,000 square feet compared to 50,000 for the Festival Pavilion.)

Good Pinot Noirs – Talisman, Couloir, Donum, Foursight, Hahn, Hillard Bruce

Happily, there were a number of wineries doing a respectable job with pinot noir.  Talisman offered two 2007 vintages from the Red Dog Vineyard (Sonoma Mountain).  One was a Pommard clone, the other from Dijon.  Both are priced fairly at $46.  We preferred the richness of the Pommard clone with its nice mouth feel to the lighter Dijon variant, but we wouldn’t kick either one off the dinner table.

Couloir wines offered the 2009 Monument Tree Vineyard from the Anderson Valley.  Very nice, but get it quick — only 149 cases were made.  At $38 a bottle, this is not a bargain, but it’s still a pretty good deal.  Winemaker Jon Grant was quite entertaining in his exposition of his winemaking, including one interesting detail.  After the grapes are picked, he leaves them in cold storage for 24 hours to allow the cut stems to seal.  That way he can do whole-cluster crushing without worrying about contamination from the stems.

The Donum Estate had two 2007 vintages available, both very nice.  The Russian River estate grown and Carneros estate grown are both quite respectable, but priced way too high at $65.

Foursight Wines (Anderson Valley, “just south of Boonville”) has been growing grapes for four generations. As owner Bill Charles told us, “We took an IQ test and failed so we started making wine.”  Their 2009 “Zero New Oak” has a hint of tangerine and is a nice bargain at $38.

But the real bargain was the  Hahn Family Wines 2010 pinot noir.  At $12, this is an outstanding value…it will probably be under their Cycles Gladiator label.

But the real bargain was the Hahn Family 2010 pinot noir.  At $12, this Monterey AVA wine is an outstanding value.  Unfortunately, I neglected to take adequate notes and Hahn Family website lists eight different labels.  And none of them include a 2010 pinot.  My recording (from my Livescribe pen) has the Hahn representative saying they released the 2010 when they ran out of the 2009.  Here’s a navigation tip: when you get to the Hahn Family website, click the Shop button then look at the left frame.  A link there takes you to Varietals and will eventually list all their pinot noirs under any label.  You can also shop by vintage or label.  Nice setup that other wineries with multiple labels could profitably emulate.  (My guess is that the 2010 we tasted will be under the Cycles Gladiator label, but I’m pretty sure the bottle we saw had no label at all. Update– it turned out to be the regular Hahn Family label though.)

On the deck at Hahn Winery, Monterey County

Hilliard Bruce offered two pinots. The 2008 Santa Rita Hills “Moon” was very nice.  We liked the 2009 “Sun” a little less.  According to an e-mail from John Hilliard, we were lucky.  The 2008 is sold out.  The 2009 retails for $55.  Fairly priced.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment was Copain Cellars.  A few years ago winemaker Wells Guthrie announced he was abandoning the traditional high-tannin lots of oak approach to wines in favor of more modern techniques that produce wine that we might actually be able to drink during our lifetimes.  The Copain offerings were thin, high acid, and had no detectable pinot character.


As always there were numerous wineries offering pinots that ran the gamut from mediocre to awful. Mediocre included Zotovich. Adastra, Keller Estate, Westwood, Orendeno, Wrath (what did we expect?), and too many others to mention. It has occurred to us that the 2008 and 2009 vintages being poured might be just not as good as usual.

We would be remiss if we did not mention Furthermore Wines (although we won’t link to their site for reasons that will be immediately apparent.) Their 2008 Bohemian Vineyards Russian River ($40) claims to have won a “Gold Medal 2010 SFIWC.” We assume that refers to the San Francisco International Wine competition. And we don’t believe it. Even the host at the Furthermore table described it as “barnyard.” That’s a nice description of the foul aroma and the flavor was no better. How a winery can turn dreck into a virtue is a mystery. Our guess is that the wine they were pouring was not the Bohemian wine — Furthermore was having a little fun. Sadly, they failed to let their potential customers in on the joke.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment was Copain Cellars. That’s because they usually make wines we enjoy. We’ve purchased from them in the past. A few years ago winemaker Wells Guthrie announced he was abandoning the traditional high-tannin lots of oak approach to wines in favor of more modern techniques that produce wine that we might actually be drinkable during our lifetimes. We approve of that direction. Unfortunately the particular wine being offered at Pinot Days was The Copain was thin, high acid, and had no detectable pinot character. We expect this wine was an aberation.

Marketing French Pinots to Californians

New gadgets and marketing ideas were also on display. The Benchmark Wine Group buys wines from estate sales worldwide and sells them online.  They claim to offer over 5,000 labels.  A quick glance at their website does nothing to invalidate this claim.  We tried a Colin Deleger Volnay Les Brouillards 2002.  Nice, light, inoffensive, but overpriced at $55.  Those who enjoy wines imported from most countries are victims of the weak U.S. dollar.

Encore Wine Imports is following a similar business model, but with a more commercial twist.  Encore’s website is currently a gateway to a number of wineries in France, Oregon, Washington, and a lone representative from California. They seem to be combining the co-op model with a high-end distributorship. Interesting business model.  We’ll watch to see whether they can pull it off.

Ft. Mason – a Difficult Venue for Car-owners

One final note about the venue: wine events need to start moving out of San Francisco.  Over the past few years we’ve attended tastings in Palo Alto, Danville (Blackhawk Country Club, highly recommended), and several other venues.  What we avoided at those locations was San Francisco’s notorious hatred of automobiles.  Our 46 mile trip from the south peninsula to Ft. Mason took a full 1 hour 40 minutes.  Of that time, about 45 minutes was spent getting from the south boundary of San Francisco to Ft. Mason (north end of the city on the bay, a distance of 9 miles).  An additional fifteen minutes looking for parking didn’t exactly put us in a good mood for winetasting.

The Official Wine of Linux

“Little Penguin” pinot noir from South Australia has to be the official wine of Linux.  This Linux wine is not bad.  Aromas of black cherries followed by delicious cherry pie flavors.  A finish that can only be described as very ripe strawberries.  A serious value at $7.99, even better at Beverages & More (Bay Area) at buy one bottle, get the second for a nickel.

The Little Penguin, South Australia pinot noir, 2008.  The Little Penguin Wines, 30 Tanunda Road, Nuriootpa, SA,  Australia 5355.  More info at

Pinot on the River 2009

To get ready for Pinot on the River 2011 we reviewed our notes and photos from Pinot on the River 2009.  That year, Pinot Report chief Greg Walter put together a three-day symposium before POTR.  We were lucky to attend the Saturday technical sessions.  Speakers such as Chris Donatiello (C. Donatiello Winery), Ken Juhasz (Auteur Wines), and Paul Clifton (Hahn Estate Wines).  There was a ton of technical information presented with specific wines illustrating some of the technical issues.  Outstanding.

Tent interior, Pinot on the River 2009

Tent interior, Pinot on the River 2009

Pinot on the River 2009 was held on the grounds of the Rodney Strong Vineyards.  There were several large tents, but some wineries were still pouring out in the hot sun.  (The forecast is for a high of 81 degrees tomorrow.)  We enjoyed discovering many new, really good pinot makers.  Among them were Littorai and MacPhail.

Tasting MacPhail

Tasting MacPhail

Some attendees were rushing Halloween by a few days

Some attendees were rushing Halloween by a few days

Tasting Littorai
Tasting Littorai

Other wineries we discovered include Bjørnstad Cellars, Kosta-Browne, and Freeman.

More photos of the scene at the grand tasting:

Pinot on the River, 2009

Pinot on the River, 2009


Pinot on the River, 2009

Pinot on the River, 2009

Hartford Family Winery and Stryker Sonoma Wine Club tasting Notes

It’s been a delicious month for pinots and zins.  We received our wine club shipments from Stryker Sonoma Vineyards and Hartford Family Winery and are doing some side by side tastings to savor our favorites. Hartford pinot vs. Manzana pinot. Three Stryker zins: “Patty Patch” vs. “Oz”  vs. “Alegria”.

Tonight (Saturday, Oct. 11, 2008) we did a side by side tasting of the Hartford Court 2005 “Sevens Bench Vineyard” Carneros pinot noir with the 2006 Dutton Estate Russian River Valley (Dutton Estate, Manzana Vineyard) pinot. (The web site says this is the 2005 vintage but I don’t believe it.) If you ever get a chance to buy either of these, don’t pass up the opportunity.  The Hartford is more complex with a classic pinot nose, relatively little fruit on the palate, and a long, incredible finish capped with licorice(!!).  The Dutton is somewhat more pedestrian, but a worthy competitor to the Hartford.  Less complex, but equally quaffable.  Both highly recommended.

Tony at Stryker Winery

Last month saw the arrival of the Stryker Sonoma wine club delivery — three zinfandels.  The 2006 “Patty’s Patch” Alexander Valley seemed to be the most approachable.  But after 30 minutes of breathing time it was overtaken by the 2006 “Oz” Alexander Valley zin.  The 2006 Alegria Vineyard zin should be aged for a year or two.  But someone else will have to handle that chore — our bottle is gone.

Also this month, we opened a road trip souvenir bottle from the Paso Robles  area, Stacked Stone Cellars.  We visited their tasting room about a year ago.  As we recalled it, when we arrived, we almost left immediately because the tasting room seemed to be closed.  Luckily for us, Shawna was on the grounds, saw us, and opened the premises for us.  Shawna is the new winemaker at Stacked Stone.  We had a very enjoyable time.  Shawna was kind enough to share her vision for the future directions of the winery.  We bought a bottle of “The Quarry” (2005) mainly as a trophy of the visit. (If you click that link, scroll down about 1/2 the page to see this wine.) When we opened it a few days ago we were initially put off by the strong vegetal aroma.  “Give it half an hour” I suggested to Norma.  That’s proof that once in a while I get something right.  The vegetation vanished and we were left with an excellent example of a red meritage blend.  Buy it if you can find it!