June 2014


Today has been the first full day in Piedmont and I’m beginning to feel a lot less like a zombie than yesterday. That’s my typical reaction to the timezone change though when I come to the EU. My body seems to go through a kind of withdrawal for at least a day and I can barely function. Much better today though.

Given that this area is the birthplace of the “Slow Food” movement and not to mention, that I’m on vacation, it’s perhaps appropriate and maybe poetic that my watch stopped today too. Maybe I should take the hint and slow down a little too.

Today there was nothing that really moved too fast. I got here all the way from Austin in the time it took my luggage to finally make the transfer from Turin. Patience… By the time it arrived though I was returning from a slow lunch.

Ravioli
Given I was waiting for the luggage to show, I didn’t venture too far to find lunch. I found Osteria del Vecchio Gallo a few blocks into the central part of Alba. They had a bunch of nice tables set up outdoors, it was beautiful weather and they seemed to have a pretty good crowd, so I found a table.

While I wish the photo was better, I obviously got the ravioli. To be specific, the “ravioli del plin burro e salvia”. Now let’s be honest. I didn’t really know what that was going to be. Ok, I at least knew the ravioli part. The “del plin” part turns out to mean a small filled ravioli. And the “burro e salvia” just means it’s covered with butter and sage. Something tells me I should be installing google translate onto my phone.

Lunch was a leisurely event and by the time I got back to my stay, my luggage was there. Cool. Off to a regional enotecha …

Just a quick side note for any Nutella fans out there. From my top floor vantage point at my B&B stay in Alba, you could easily look to the right and see where tons of Nutella was being made. Granted, I don’t think the American version is made here but this is apparently one of the main manufacturing locations for Nutella and the stuff was invented in Alba. They like their hazelnuts and chocolate here.

I’m going to backdate these notes since this was my 1st stay and at this point I’m already on to my 3rd stay of the 2014 Italy trip.

After the preliminary steps of getting to Turin and getting a car, the next step was obviously off to my first place to stay for the duration. I was wiped out and did not have my luggage at this point (did not make the fast connection) so probably not in the best of moods. I was just ready to find my B&B and just chill for awhile.

I could have probably just arranged something in Turin over night on that first day and then headed out into the countryside but I’d much rather be immersed in the culture of a small town (relatively) right away than the big city. At least that’s been my experience on previous trips so I just opted to go directly from the airport to Alba. It only sucked because I didn’t have my luggage and I’d now have to deal with the delivery of that. After getting the car, travel time was somewhere on the order of an hour and a half, give or take.

Nothing remarkable on the drive down to Alba other than it’s all rather nice countryside and as you approach Alba things start to quickly become hilly. But the central part of Alba is not hilly at all.

I fired up the GPS to get me to Alba and the ‘Terrace of the Towers’ better known as La Terrazza sulle Torri.

When I first arrived in town, by at least the GPS’s accounting I was in the right place but for the life of me I couldn’t find the place. I walked up and down the street. Nothing looked remotely like what I might expect to be a B&B. I think it was mostly because I was tired and just missing things. Later I realized there was a sign on the wall of the building that I hadn’t noticed. Ok, so it was at least a little small.

Still though, even if I had found the right door, I had to call Lorenzo because the B&B was on the top floor of what seemed to be an apartment building and the only way in was thru a locked door. In any case, I called Lorenzo and parked on a bench near the traffic circle. 5 minutes later or less there was Lorenzo on his scooter as promised. He walked me over to the bldg and took me to the top floor and checked me in.

The B&B wasn’t fancy but it was just right. It was a great room, that had a nice deck, a comfy bed, and was just a half a block from the core central part of Alba. After a quick freshen-up, I was off to explore Alba – and get something to eat! (And by the way, you can’t go wrong for a quick bite and some wine by the glass at Vincafe in central Alba. Lorezno had recommended it and it was a great first landing spot to get some pasta and a glass of wine.)

Lorenzo and his wife were extremely helpful throughout. They were not living on the premises but he gave me restaurant recommendations immediately and then the next morning was my lifeline to getting my luggage SNAFU worked out. They were there each morning by 9am.

Breakfasts here were a pretty simple affair. They had a bunch of different local foods out and available in the morning. Things like hazelnuts, fruit, yogurt, granola, coffee, milk, juice, fresh bread, jams/marmalades/butter. Was nice just to grab a coffee and head back to the patio deck and get the morning air.

The location made for a nice home base. From this point I made multiple trips (by car) out into the surrounding areas for regional enotecha at Grinzane Cavour and a Barbaresco winery.

I love to travel. It typically gives me new perspectives. But it can also be exhausting if things don’t go right.

I’m off to Piedmont in Italy to see what there is to see and more specifically to eat good food, drink good wine and bicycle. Not too many straight shots into Turin from my neck of the woods so I left home early Saturday to catch a 7am flight to Washington DC and then from there a flight to Frankfurt, Germany where I would transfer to Turin – or Torino as the locals would say – before grabbing a car and driving to Alba in the heart of Piedmont wine country.

Pretty routine in the early going but the flight out of Washington ended up delayed. Doh! That didn’t leave much time for my connection once I arrived in Frankfurt so my baggage got hung up en route. Bummer. It’s nasty not being able to change into clean clothes after showering after a couple long flights. I’ve been very lucky over the year with baggage. I can only recall having it lost in transit a couple times. I was not so lucky this time.

In hindsight the short connection time was probably optimistic – when aren’t there delays – and I should have planned better. Though I’m not sure there were other flights from Frankfurt into Turin today. Even the one I was on was at best half full.

Frankfurt is not my favorite airport. The times I’ve been through it have always presented unusual logistics. For example, our completely full 777 did not park at a gate with a jet bridge, instead it parked at a remote location on the tarmac and several buses came to pick us up and then drive us far across the airport. From there you proceed through passport control. I was very thankful I’d squeezed onto the 1st bus and was wedged up near the door. It allowed me to be perhaps 8th in line at passport control instead of 100th in line. From there I ran to the A concourse to catch my connection. But to get there I first had to go through security again. That always strikes me as odd. I just got off the plane and thru passport control and I never left a secure area but yet I have to go through security again. Thankfully that was moving quickly. Off and running again I found my gate and as before, no plane parked at the gate. Instead, a bus was parked at the gate. So we board a bus and drive halfway across the airport to a regional jet parked on the tarmac. My connection took me the full 45 minutes I had available and I was feeling happy I’d managed it in that amount of time. If only my luggage had made it too… Sure hope it gets here tomorrow.

Day 3 of tasting in the Willamette Valley were all wineries I’d never been to. All based on recommendations though.

Winderlea

Winderlea had been recommended but based on reading in advance I realized they were not going to be open to the public over Memorial Day weekend and instead were doing a sit-down tasting event by appointment only. So I emailed and got us an appointment. I think they chose wisely. While new and modern looking the tasting room at Winderlea is pretty small and there’s very little parking. I imagine leaving it to chance might have been a pain for all concerned. As it was, it was leisurely and enjoyable.



As you can see, the weather was great and the tasting room opened up to a deck that overlooked the vineyards below.

Two of the wines had already been poured. On the left was the 2012 Winderlea Chardonnay. On the right, the 2013 Winderlea Rosé of Pinot Noir. The bigger glass were for the Pinot Noir to come.

They did a nice job of pairing the plate of snack with the wines. From left to right: a lemon parmesan tulle crisp, a wrapped grilled asparagus, some sautéed cremini mushrooms and then a rhubarb macaron. We were told the chef for the event was Tan Huynh though he wasn’t at the event that morning.

This was probably my favorite tasting event of the trip. The spot was great, the wines were good and the food and its presentation were done well.

My favorite wine here was the 2012 Winderlea Crawford Beck Pinot noir. From the tasting notes: “nose of savory dried herbs, lavender and fresh earth”. For me, definitely a lot of cherry and cranberry on the taste.

antica terra

A couple of people that morning – one at breakfast and the other a person at our table at Winderlea – had recommended we give antica terra a try. It was the sort of place that you could easily just drive by. The tasting was done in more of a warehouse type of building. The recommendations didn’t steer us wrong though. Very nice wines. Here, I think my favorite was the 2012 Antica Terra Aurata Chardonnay. At $75 a bottle probably not one I’d get on any kind of routine basis though.

Alexana


I only took a few notes at Alexan. Yet another Rosé of Pinot Noir here as you can see and there really wasn’t one of those from anyone I didn’t like. Favorite from there though was the 2012 ‘Single Clone Pommard’ Pinot Noir.

Lemelson

I snagged no photos at Lemelson. My notes tell me I liked the 2012 Chestnut Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir the best of their offerings though Lemelson was a little frustrating. While other wineries had planned things in a way that the holiday weekend crowd moved along well, things were a little chaotic at Lemelson.

Soter

By contrast, Soter had set up stations throughout the winery and had set up tables out in back for the crowd to flow out to. As you can see in the photo, a pretty good crowd at Soter. Sadly I didn’t take any notes here that I could find but I remember they had some of the best snacks of anyone that afternoon!

My notes from Day 2 of tasting in the Willamette Valley this year are a little more sketchy than Day 1. For example, I know we visited De Ponte Cellars but for the life of me, I can’t seem to find any info I took with me from that tasting – or any photos. This is what happens when you take too long to jot down your notes. But I do have some of my other notes and memories so I’m going to jot a few here.

1st stop that Saturday was Domaine Serene.

But first, a quick sidebar. It took a fair bit less time than I imagined to drive up to Domaine Serene so we just drove around the hills for a bit before our 11am appt. (Previous visits had suggested there would likely be a lot more traffic on the highway than we ever encountered on this trip, even though it was a holiday weekend.) As we went down one of the gravel roads near De Ponte we happened upon a couple of older women along the side of the road. One was down on the ground and the other was trying to help the other woman up. As we went by it was clear the [very] old woman on the ground was in some distress. She had a cut on her head too. So we stopped to lend a hand. The old woman had taken a tumble in the gravel and her daughter wasn’t able to get her upright to walk the quarter mile or so back home. So, we helped her into the car and drove her up the road and helped her into a chair. Other than a little sore – and frail to begin with – I think she was fine. Our good deed for the day.

Domaine Serene

Domaine Serene has wines that you can routinely find here in Austin, even at HEB grocery. So I’d had some Pinot Noir from here before and loved it but despite previous trips that had me a stones throw away, I’d never managed to visit. So, this one I actually planned in advance, and bought what seems to me in hindsight to be pretty expensive tasting reservations. Advance reservations were $40/person. For that you got to taste 6 wines and there was a plate of cheese/snacks that accompanied.

Domaine Serene

As you can see, the tasting room at Domaine Serene is a large and kinda upscale place. So if nothing else the experience there was nice. We had a private table and someone was assigned to us to lead us thru the tasting. I should have gotten her name but didn’t. She was very knowledgable and a good guide thru the 6 wines. There were two Chardonnay, 3 Pinot Noir and one Rosé.

The Chards in Oregon tend not to be the big oaky and buttery type you’ll get from Calif. So I personally tend to like them better. We started with the 2012 Evenstad Reserve Chard. Winery tasting notes say it “shows complex aromas of citrus blossom, stone fruit, nutmeg and crushed stone”. Despite all that I made a note of how much oak I was getting on it and while I liked this wine I preferred the 2nd of the Chards, the 2011 Etoile Vineyard, better. As a single vineyard wine this one immediately adds $20. 😉 Tongue in cheek of course but I did like this one better. Winery notes: “exhibits the most Chablis-like profile of our of Chardonnays. The aroma boasts … minerality, lime zest and flint, leading to green apple and citrus flavors”. My notes added ‘lemon zest’. I liked this one a lot.

Our next tasting were of three Pinot Noir. The 2011 Yamhill Cuvee, the 2011 Evenstad Reserve and the 2011 Jerusalem Hill Vineyard. While I enjoyed all of them, I can’t say any of them blew me away.

Lastly there was the “r” Rosé. The winery notes on this one say it’s a “proprietary blend that offers the exotic complexity one might find in a Bandol Rosé. The intriguing aroma profile offers notes of citrus blossom, fresh strawberries and passion fruit”. Definitely tasted like something from southern France and yet the $35 price tag was out of line with a comparable and quaffable Rosé imported from that region. As much as I enjoyed this one I’m not going to pay $35 for a pink wine I could just as easily find/enjoy that’s <$15. I preferred the Rosé from Stoller the day before.

White Rose

Just down the hill from Domaine Serene is White Rose Estate. I wanted to return to White Rose based on a previous visit a couple years ago. At that time I logged it as being my favorite Pinot Noir tasting I did on that trip. I was equally happy with the choices this time around and while the 2012 Luciole Vineyard and 2011 Marsh Vineyard Pinot Noirs were awesome, I ended up taking home a 2011 Neo-Classical Objective Pinot. I’ve subsequently found this article about where the name comes from.

The photo here is of the winemaker, Jesus Guillen, at White Rose. He did not appear to be a man of many words but it was nice of him to sign the bottle I bought. When I finally get around to opening it I’ll have to come back and find this photo.

Jesus Guillen at White Rose

Archery Summit

I don’t have notes of the wines at Archery Summit but the wine cave was cool to visit. I snagged this photo on the way in.

Sokol Blosser

We’d been told by multiple people to check out Sokol Blosser. In part, the recommendation was based on checking out the new tasting room. Since the old bldg is still there it’s pretty clear that the new one is 3 or 4 times as large as the old one – with a much more modern design. You can see it in the photo below. The deck out front made for a nice place to just chill out for a while.

Of the wines here, the 2011 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir was my fav. “black cherry, raspberry, cola, cassis”. The 2013 Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir was enjoyable as well.

Dinner later that evening was at La Rambla back in McMinnville. This was a return visit and just as good as I remember. Enjoyed all the food but those fried green beans were killer!

Our epic weekend tastings started by heading south from Portland with a plan to take in some wineries along the way in Dundee and south of McMinnville, which would put us close to our stay at Youngberg Hill B&B late in the afternoon. It doesn’t take long to get from Portland to Dundee so we were there shortly after places start to open at 11.

As preface to these notes, there weren’t any wines we tasted that we thought were bad. On the contrary, everywhere we went, the quality was excellent. No doubt, a lot of the reason for that was because everywhere we went was either a return visit for me or had been recommended in advance by someone. In fact, I got so many recommendations in advance there was no way to take them all in. I guess that means I’ll just have to return another time.

Argyle

1st up along our route was Argyle. It’s right off the highway leading through Dundee. While good, I think our impression of the Pinots was they all seemed pretty lean and very light bodied. We tried the 2012 Reserve Pinot, the 2011 and 2012 Nuthouse Pinots and the 2011 Clubhouse Pinot. The latter I liked better than the former ones. Without a doubt though, our favorite wine by a landslide at Argyle was the 2010 Brut Rosé. My notes gave it which for me means I loved it and I’d buy it again and again. Winery tasting notes can be found here.

Lange

I’ve been to Lange on previous visits but I always find good Pinot Noir there and this visit was no exception. And aside from the wines, Lange has a great view and there’s always something beautiful in bloom.

My favorite of the ones we tasted at Lange was the 2012 Magma Opus Pinot noir. Of all the tastings we did, this was one of only two wines I ended up bringing back home with me.

On Friday and at that hour, we were the only people doing a tasting. Maybe it’s typical or maybe it was because we the only ones there but a couple of the tastings were done – like this ‘Soil Series’ set – side by side. I always like that approach because it’s much easier to compare one to the others several times.

Stoller

Stoller is another winery I’ve been to before. I enjoyed the wines and the grounds around the winery are beautiful. There’s a great view from inside the tasting room. I included a photo below.

Stoller included a couple of Chardonnays. The 2013 Dundee Hills Chard was stainless steel fermented and it suited my taste better.

The standout wine for me though at Stoller was the 2013 Pinot Noir Rosé. You can see a photo above. Denise bought two of them.

I guess we looked like we were enjoying things (and Denise was having a great conversation with the woman helping us) so she let us try a couple additional wines. One was a 2008 Pinot Noir. I did not catch any other info about it, but it was fantastic. The other wine we tried was a 2011 Syrah from their Single Acre series.

Brooks

As we wound our way to our our stay for the duration, the rest of the afternoon was spent south of McMinnville. Perhaps no surprise, Brooks is another winery I’ve been to before. But Brooks does several Rieslings so I knew it would offer something different. From my notes, I enjoyed the 2010 Willamette Valley Riesling but I really, really enjoyed the 2010 Temperence Hill Pinot Noir.

One of the things I like about Brooks is that it is a very small place. Often what comes with being small – and certainly no exception here – is they spend a lot of time with you and the attention and service you get is outstanding. The people behind the counter at Brooks have been exceptionally knowledgable and friendly and somehow they always find just one more interesting wine you weren’t expecting before you leave. (We also learned that Lumpy’s is the place the wine folks go when they just want a beer.) Sadly we didn’t find time to pull into Lumpy’s when we drove by the next day. 😉

Bethel Heights

Bethel Heights was new for me and a nice find. It had been recommended before the visit by a friend of Denise’s and by one of the folks at one of the wineries above. Given it was Memorial Day weekend we were again surprised to find so few people in the tasting room. I think we may have been the only people in there when we stopped by. The standout fav by far in my opinion based on my notes was the 2013 Pinot Blanc. Loved it. Others I really enjoyed: The 2012 Estate Chardonnay, the 2013 Pinot Gris and the 2012 Riesling. Of the Pinot Noirs, I particularly liked the 2012 Aeolian.

One additional thing that Bethel Heights was doing, I think, because it was Memorial Day weekend was having 3 local cheeses available to try with the wines. I wish I could remember exactly what they were but I didn’t jot that down or take a picture. One though was definitely an aged Gouda. Anyway, it was a nice addition.

Bryn Mawr

Bryn Mawr had also been recommended earlier in the day and was literally a stone’s throw from Bethel Heights. Bryn Mawr is also a very small winery. If my notes are right, their 2014 vintage expectation was somewhere in the 2K to 3K case range.

We were spoiled here by being the only people in the tasting room late in the day and perhaps because of that and because it’s a very small place, the wine maker Rachel Rose personally gave us our tasting. You can see her in the photo below.

Like Bethel Heights, they had a nice local cheese plate out. But in this case, I’ve got some notes. It included Blueberry Havarti and some smoked Fontina along with some Marcona almonds. The cheese was from Willamette Valley Cheese Company.

Standouts for me at Bryn Mawr were the 2013 David’s Cuvee Pinot Blanc, The 2013 Rosé of Pinot Noir and the 2009 Reserve Pinot Noir.

Youngberg Hill

The finally stop of the day was both winery and B&B. We arrived after their normal tasting hours but they greated us with a nice glass of Youngberg Hill Pinot Blanc. And excellent way to finish the afternoon. As you can see by the photo, we enjoyed it from the deck overlooking the valley.

One final note regarding dinner. That night we were off to a fantastic little place in McMinnville called Thistle. If you make the trip to McMinnville, definitely check this place out. I had the rabbit and it was fantastic. Unless you’re looking for it, the sign to the place is not obvious so keep an eye peeled. It’s a small place made up of 3 rooms. At one end, the kitchen is visible and everyone looked busy. At the other end, there’s the small bar. In between, a few tables in what looks to be the main dining area. We were lucky enough to have reservations and scored a nice table.

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