Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 13

19book "The Girls of Atomic City" by Denise Kiernan.I just finished reading a book called, The Girls of Atomic City:  The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II.  It tells the story of the tens of thousands of women who were recruited to live and work in a super-secret city in the Appalachian Mountains, built during World War II, for a singular purpose — enriching uranium.  Only no one ever said the word uranium.  The town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, wasn’t on any map — it didn’t exist.  And the women who worked there worked in total secrecy, not only from family and friends on the outside, but from each other.  They were told not to ask questions (like, “Why can’t I find Oak Ridge on a map?”), their jobs so compartmentalized, no one was fully aware of exactly what they were working on.  The women were told only that what they were doing would help win the war, and bring the boys home.

Back up a few years . . .

Back in 1939, a couple of German scientists figured out how to split an atom of uranium. Über-smart science guys from all over the world got a little panicky as they collectively realized the potential danger if the Germans figured out how to harness that energy into a weapon before the Allies did.  The earliest front of World War II was active — the science front.

By 1939, scientists Albert Einstein (Germany) and Enrico Fermi (Italy) had both fled their respective countries, and were living in the United States.  Einstein was born a Jew, and Fermi’s wife was a Jew — both recognized the dangers of remaining in Germany and Italy.  Einstein and Fermi (together with a whole slew of other scientists) started sending up warning flags about the potential for a “new kind of bomb”, and the monstrous consequences if the Germans developed it first.  In this race, second place would be last place, so the US government secretly funded a project to design and build the atomic bomb — the Manhattan Project.

The first real breakthrough in the Manhattan Project came in December of 1942.  Scientists working in Chicago (Enrico Fermi chief among them), had finally created the world’s first ever self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.  As far as scientific accomplishments go, this one was a biggie.  It rolled out the welcome mat for the Atomic Age.

I never gave any thought to how those scientists must have felt at that moment.  I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about nuclear reactions in general — the best experience I ever had in a science lab was leaving it.  But those guys (and one gal, I should point out!) must have felt like they discovered fire.  And they celebrated (and I use that word loosely) their accomplishment with a bottle of Italian Chianti:


I was curious why Wigner chose Chianti, so I went down the Internet rabbit hole to find out.  According to Wigner’s memoir, he purchased the bottle of Chianti months earlier in Princeton, New Jersey, and saved it, optimistic there would be a reason to open it.  Chianti was a special wine to him — it was the first wine he ever tasted, as a young boy visiting Venice, and its impression stuck with him.  And, having lived through World War I in Europe, Wigner feared the war would soon make it tough for Italy to export wine.  Wigner’s memoirs recall Fermi (not Wigner) opening the bottle, but that’s probably unimportant.  What is important is the scientists simply raised their paper cups of Chianti in a silent toast.  This was one of those moments that defied words.

Sidebar:  In his memoir, Wigner refers to the Chianti as “sweet”, which came as a surprise to me.  Was Chianti sweet in the late 1930s??  Wigner’s impression was less of a surprise: “What a beautiful, subtle pleasure wine gives.”  Hear, hear.

Here’s a photo of that signed bottle of Chianti, from the Argonne National Laboratory Energy Showcase:

chianti signedPhoto Credit

After the breakthrough in Chicago, the purse strings weren’t just loosened on the Manhattan Project, they were completely untied.  The uranium enrichment project in Oak Ridge went on, full speed ahead.  The women working in that secret city never knew (and if they suspected, they didn’t dare think it) what they were working on until the bombs were dropped on Japan in 1945.  The war was over.  Many of the women stayed in Oak Ridge after the war, others moved on.  But for all of the women, “a strange mix of . . . pride and guilt and joy and shame endured.”

If you’re interested in more, The Atlantic published many of Ed Wescott’s (the only authorized photographer at Oak Ridge) photos in a completely fascinating series:  Life in the Secret City.


MWWC #11: Walking a Mile with a Bottle of Wine *

Sometimes, the simple act of showing up is what matters most of all.

LesMis_Wine-Of-Friendship_smThe night my grandfather died, I was a young (and brand new) Marine wife, living on Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base in coastal North Carolina.  My husband was deployed overseas, and I still didn’t know many people there.  If you’ve never lived on a military base, it’s a lot like living on another planet.  It’s one of the best planets the universe has to offer, but it takes some getting used to. And I was still in my fish out of water phase.

I don’t remember exactly what I was doing before the phone rang that night.  Probably having a showdown with a North Carolina palmetto bug — a giant, flying cockroach related to the pterodactyl.  Or trying to figure out a way to tell my husband during our next morale call that our German shepherd puppy ate his favorite comforter.  This was back in the year 1993 PC (pre-cell), when corded telephones roamed the earth.  And the Marine Corps gave us a free, 15-minute overseas phone call once a week.  I had to get up at 0200 and go through an operator on a party line (which was more 1943 than 1993), but it was better than nothing.

I do remember it was late at night and really cold outside (go ahead, have a field day with the foreshadowing and symbolism there).  Anyway, the phone rang.  You know what happens next.

My mom and I talked through that first rogue wave of grief, but eventually, I knew I had to hang up the phone.  And then I thought, what am I supposed to do now?  My parents were 2,000 miles away. My brother was in college in Kentucky.  And my husband was deployed half-way across the globe.  I was alone.  Alone, alone.  Well, except for that palmetto bug and my textile-eating German shepherd.

Palmetto bugs don’t make for very good grief companions, so I called one of the other battalion wives.  She was a stranger once removed, really.  But ten minutes later, she showed up at my door with a hug and a bottle of wine.  That’s the thing about the Marine Corps Mafia (all military families, really) — if you call, they come running.  She came inside, handed me the bottle of wine, and said, “Tell me about your grandpa.”

And so we sat, in the dark, in the middle of my living room floor.  We drank that bottle of wine and she listened to me cry . . . and encouraged me to remember.  Looking back, I have no idea why she and I sat in the dark in the middle of my living room floor.  My husband and I were young newlyweds, who hadn’t yet accumulated a lot of stuff, but we did have a couch.  And electricity.

I also have no idea what kind of wine she brought that night.  Other than it was red flavor, and probably cheap — new 2nd lieutenants aren’t exactly flush with cash.  It probably had a cute, dancing animal on the label.  But it didn’t matter — that wine tasted like solace, and it was one of the best wines of my life.  As we drank that bottle of wine, I cried less and smiled more.  And when the bottle was empty, she stood up and said, “Go get some rest.  You’ll feel better in the morning.  Things are always better in the morning.”  (She probably wanted to go home and sit on a couch, like a civilized person).

And you know what?  Things were better in the morning.  Not by much, but they were better.

I’m not much for poetry (most of it grates on my last good nerve).  But when I was in elementary school, a friend gave me this poem, and I’ve kept it in my cedar chest for the last 30 years . . .

People come into our lives and walk with us a mile, and then because of circumstances they only stay a while.  They serve a need within the days that move so quickly by, and then are gone beyond our reach we often wonder why.  Who knows the reason that we meet and share a smile, why people come into our lives and walk with us a mile.

I wish I could tell you that bottle of wine ignited an enduring, quarter-century friendship, but it didn’t.  We lost touch over the years.  And that’s OK.  That’s the reality of time and distance. Some people come into our lives and walk a marathon with us, others just walk a mile.

Honestly, I don’t spend a lot of time wondering why — I’m just grateful I didn’t have to walk that mile alone.

That night, a friend showed up . . . and she brought wine.


*This is my entry in the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, #11.  The theme this month is:  Friend!

Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 12

Who's up for an algae smoothie??

Who’s up for an algae smoothie??

I’ve been thinking a lot about water this week. Kind of a surprise, really, since I usually think a lot about wine.  Call it my out-of-the-box moment.

My parents live in northern Ohio, near Toledo.  Earlier this week, the Toledo area was under a water ban (don’t drink, bathe or boil) because of a Lake Erie algae bloom containing dangerous levels of microcystin, a toxin released by cyanobacteria, which is a fancy science word for blue-green algae. Microcystin isn’t very nice.  If you swim in it, you’re in for an itchy rash, hives and blisters. If you swallow the stuff, it can cause a whole range of nasty gastrointestinal issues, along with potential liver and kidney damage.  Oh, and it’s been known to kill pets and livestock.

So when the Lake Erie science guys issue a CAPSLOCK warning that says, “DON’T DRINK THE WATER!” . . . Copy that.

Algae blooms aren’t a new thing for Lake Erie — they happen almost every summer.  Some blooms are more toxic than others.  Lake Erie is more susceptible to the algae blooms because it’s a shallow lake (only around 24 feet deep near Toledo), and warms quickly.  Toxic algae loves shallow, warm lakes.  The algae blooms can be traced back to phosphorous run-off from fertilizer and animal waste.  Climate change and a couple species of invasive mussels are also getting a share of the blame.  Unfortunately, this isn’t Lake Erie’s first time at the Algae Bloom Rodeo, and it won’t be their last.

Lake Erie has never had a great reputation.  For years, people have whispered it’s a dead, dirty lake.  I’ve heard the word sewer tossed around, too.  Lake Erie rebounded a bit over the last couple of decades, but still wrestles with that reputation.  When I was a kid, I swam in Lake Erie almost every summer, an activity I now realize is about the same as taking a dip in a petri dish. Back then, there were none of these handy public advisory signs posted on the beaches. Honestly, it’s a wonder I haven’t sprouted a third ear.

buckeye lake 1

Come on in . . . the water is fine.

My mom said it was impossible to to buy bottled water in northern Ohio this past weekend – the store shelves were (and still are) bare.  (This is the part where the Doomsday Preppers start to look like geniuses).  And you can’t boil water contaminated with microcystin.  Well, you can, but boiling only concentrates the toxins and increases your chances of going twelve rounds with Lake Erie Dysentery.

So what did my folks do in the face of this public health crisis?  They drank wine!

My parents have a wine cellar capable of sustaining them through any algae bloom Lake Erie can throw at them.  Which brings me (finally) to this week’s words:

bacteria-JPG-73These words are frequently attributed to Benjamin Franklin, but as such they’re almost assuredly a misquote.  Either that, or Benjamin Franklin was an oracle.  The word Bacterium wasn’t introduced until 1828, and the word Bacteria wasn’t used as a scientific term until 1838. Benjamin Franklin died in 1790.  I’ve also seen the words attributed to David Auerbach (no idea which one)  and someone named “Old German Saying”.

I’ve even seen these words as an addendum to Pliny’s very famous quote, “In wine there is truth.”  It makes sense.  The ancient Greeks & Romans knew there were baddies in the water, so they drank a ton of wine instead.  And whatever water they did drink, they mixed with wine, thinking the wine would somehow make the water less poisonous.  But they still wouldn’t have used the word bacteria.

Regardless of the source, the next time Lake Erie blooms with toxic algae, I’m comforted in the knowledge that my parents have plenty of wisdom and strength to drink while they wait for the all clear sign.


P.S.  On Monday, officials lifted the water ban after deciding toxin levels in Lake Erie had returned to “acceptable levels”.  This means the water probably doesn’t contain enough toxin to kill your poodle.

Field Trip: Stinson Vineyards

I’ve visited a ton of Virginia wineries over the years. But I’ve only been writing this blog for a few short months, so I’m gradually revisiting favorites, not so favorites, and new wineries so I can blog the experience. says there are 250 wineries in Virginia.  Visiting all of them is starting to sound like Mission Impossible.  But I’ll do my best . . . DSCN5418

A couple of weeks ago, I received an invitation from Stinson Vineyards (no affiliation with the legen-waitforit-dary Barney Stinson) to come out and do a tasting with winemaker Rachel Stinson.  Stinson is a small, family-owned, boutique winery just west of Charlottesville, modeled after the garagistes of Bordeaux.  Garagiste is the French word for mechanic.  It’ll come as a relief to most of you to know garagistes aren’t mechanics who make wine. Garagistes are a group of winemakers who make small batches of some pretty killer wine in (waitforit) a garage.  The movement started in Bordeaux, and planted roots in the USA with the garagistes of Paso Robles — think Rhone Rangers.

The Stinson’s are accidental winemakers.  Scott and Martha Stinson purchased the property in 2009 as a retirement venture.  The property came with a old, historic house and a few acres of neglected vines.  Fortunately for Virginia wine lovers, the Stinson’s had the vision to resurrect those vines.  They lured their daughter, Rachel, to Virginia (from Manhattan, where she was working as a photo editor), to serve as winemaker.  Today, Rachel and Scott are making small batches of wine in a beautiful, temperature-controlled garage.  After all, you can’t call yourself a garagiste if you don’t have a garage.

Stinson is a gorgeous property with panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The house on the property dates to 1796.  It’s rumored that General Stonewall Jackson stayed at the house during his Valley Campaign in 1862.  Many Virginia wineries have a Civil War (or a colonial) connection — one of my favorite collateral perks about Virginia wine.  And if it’s been a while since you dusted off your Civil War history, the Valley Campaign was when Jackson marched 17,000 men up, down, and back up the Shenandoah Valley (more than 670 miles) in 48 days.  The campaign was a success at a time when the South desperately needed a boost in morale, and cemented Jackson as a legendary Confederate General.  And he slept . . . right here at Stinson Vineyards.

I forgot to take a picture of the house in its current (restored) state, but I grabbed this photo from the Stinson website: stinson vineyard house Gabrielle Rause (often called the Father of Virginia Wine) was the first to plant vines on the Stinson property, back in 1976.  Over the years, and through the grasp of several different owners, the vines slipped into neglect, and succumbed to a nasty leaf-roll virus.  The only way to truly get rid of leaf-roll virus is to rip out the vines.  Disheartening news.  And then you have to plant a cover crop (like clover or winter rye) before you can replant your vines.  The Stinson’s ripped out their vines in 2009, and replanted in 2010, with 5 acres of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Petit Manseng, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tannat.  Gradually, Stinson is able to use more and more of their own grapes, but continues to source from local as well as Shenandoah Valley wineries.

As the vines were ripped out, the Stinson’s started to find archaeological relics on the property. They have collected and displayed those fantastic little treasures inside this great old hotel-key style display case in the tasting room:

Rachel’s winemaking style is heavily influenced by French winemaking, especially Bordeaux and the Loire Valley.  Rachel consults with Matthieu Finot, winemaker at King Family Vineyards (practically Stinson’s neighbor).  Stinson uses whole berry fermentation for their reds, and ages their wines in French oak.  Stinson makes only 10 wines, and only about 100-200 cases of each. I love the small batch concept at Stinson — find your niche and embrace it.

The tasting room is small (I have no doubt they will need to expand as they get discovered) but light and attractive.  Rachel had the chalkboard frames made on Etsy, and a carpenter designed and constructed the tasting bars with recycled barn wood:

Here’s the Stinson tasting lineup:


The concrete (egg) tank, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Mork from Ork’s egg-ship. Nanu-Nanu.

Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ⭐⭐⭐/85
1/3 of the grapes for this wine are sourced from the Stinson property, and the remainder are from the Shenandoah Valley.  Fermented in stainless steel and concrete.  Reminds me a lot of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in style.  Plenty of acid and grass. Grapefruit dancing around on the mid-palate.  $23.

Rosé 2013 ⭐⭐⭐/87
100% Mouvèdre.  You read that right — Mouvèdre in Virginia!  Made in a Provence style, this Rosé is deliciously dry.  I love that more and more American Rosés are resisting the urge to be White Zinfandel.  Gorgeous, creamy mouthfeel with flavors of  strawberry and grapefruit.  $18.

Chardonnay 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/88
The Chardonnay isn’t offered as part of the tasting during the summer months, but will return in the fall.  Rachel brought out a bottle for me to taste, though.  50% malolactic fermentation.  Aged 20% in new French oak, and the remainder in neutral French oak.  Complex, layered flavors of pear and butter, with just enough oak grip without going overboard.  Really nicely done.  $22.

Sugar Hollow White 2012 ⭐⭐/84
This is Stinson’s entry into the P3 category of wines — patio, picnic and porch, and it’s Stinson’s best selling wine.  100% Vidal Blanc.  Slightly sweet, with 0.9% residual sugar.  Light and easy. I’m not a fan of sweet wines in general (except for late harvest and fortified wines, and even then in small doses), but if sweeter wines are your thing, I have no doubt you’ll love this wine! $16.

Meritage 2011 ⭐⭐⭐/87
Virginia reds are really starting to gain some traction with Meritage.  This one is 35% Merlot, 25% Petit Verdot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc.  Aged 14 months in French oak.  Restrained and soft with an elegant mouthfeel.  Cinnamon on the nose.  Flavors of red currant and plum.  Great vanilla finish.  $26.

La Tour d’Afton 2009 ⭐⭐⭐/86
This wine is made by Turk Mountain Vineyards in Afton — a garagiste, boutique winery also mentored by Matthieu Finotbut.  Turk Mountain doesn’t have a tasting room and isn’t open to the public, so Rachel showcases and sells this wine at Stinson.  Turk Mountain uses native fermentation (no commercial yeast) in their wines. 40% Petit Verdot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot and 20% Malbec.  The nose seems slightly astringent, but the structure is lovely. Putting the small in small batch — only about 1,000 bottles were made.  $29.

Tannat 2011 ⭐⭐⭐/86
Tannat is another rising red star in Virginia wine.  Aged 50% in new French oak and 50% in neutral French oak.  Dense with heavy tannins.  Loaded with blueberry jam flavors and a backbone of white pepper.  $32.

Petit Manseng 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/86
This is a late harvest wine with 9.6% residual sugar.  Great balance of acidity and sweetness, it’s not cloying at all.  Tangerine notes.  Would be killer with baklava.  $25.


That’s old Stonewall on the bottle.

Imperialis 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/87
(Also not on the regular tasting menu).  100% Tannat.  A port style wine made in open top puncheons.  Open fermentation stopped with the addition of brandy.  Nicely balanced, with flavors of fig and smoke.  Kinda makes you crave a cigar.  Winner of a Made in the South award from Garden & Gun Magazine.  16% ABV.  $29.

My immediate and concluding thought after finishing the Stinson tasting was how consistent (and consistently good) the wines are.  A remarkable accomplishment for an accidental winemaker who’s only been at this for a handful of years.  Brava!

I couldn’t resist a couple of artsy vineyard shots on my way out:

If you’re planning a day in Charlottesville, make sure you detour to Stinson Vineyards!


Vin Nouveau: La Deuxième Partie

This is part two in a four-part series of new-to-me French wine regions, brought to you by the Tour de France.  My first post in this series (along with background) can be found here:  Vin Nouveau:  La Première Partie.

The next new-to-me French wine region on my Tour de France is Savoie.

Savoie isn’t far from Jura (last week’s new-to-me region) — it’s just a cheese wheel’s throw to the southeast.  It’s a truly alpine wine region, with most vineyards growing on the sides of steep slopes.  The climate is marked by fairly hot summers and cold winters.  The growing conditions are extreme, and many of the more traditional grape varieties don’t survive here. The Savoie coat of arms is a white cross on a red background.  It appears on many Savoie wine labels.

Savoie trivia:  The name Savoie comes from the Latin, meaning “country of fir trees”.  The 1992 Winter Olympics were held in Savoie, in Albertville.  And, most interesting of all (at least to me), Savoie has been called the birthplace of my favorite dinner on the planet . . . cheese fondue.

The main grape varieties grown in Savoie include:

  • Altesse — white, bottled as Roussette de Savoie
  • Chasselas — white, light-bodied and neutral
  • Jacquère — Savoie’s indigenous white grape, dry and light bodied with high acidity
  • Bergeron (the local name for Roussanne) — white, bottled as Chignin Bergeron
  • Gringet — white, high acid, delicate and floral; used in the sparkling wines of Ayze
  • Mondeuse — red, lighter in style, with flavors of cherry and black pepper

Savoie produces mostly white wines because red wine grapes have some trouble fully ripening in the region.  Even white grapes are only usually barely ripe, so they produce wines that are higher in acid and lower in sugar.

While researching this post, I sifted through a lot of very dry and very unclear information about Savoie.  And I came to the conclusion that under the heading, Why French Wine is Confusing it says, #BecauseSavoie.  Here’s why.

There are three AOCs for Savoie (dates of AOC status are in parentheses):

  1. Vin de Savoie (1973)
  2. Seyssel (1942) — both still and sparkling wines; still wines are made from the Altesse grape, sparkling wines are made from Altesse, Chasselas and Molette grapes.  I read somewhere that the only reason Seyssel has its own AOC (and isn’t a cru appendage) is because it was awarded so early.
  3. Roussette de Savoie (1973) — wines are made from the Altesse grape.  There are four cru names that can be appended to the Rousette de Savoie AOC:  Frangy, Monterminod, Marestel and Monthoux.

That seems straight forward enough.  What’s so confusing about three AOCs?  Well, nothing. Until I tell you there are sixteen cru villages that can append their name to the Vin de Savoie name.  And lot of these cru have specific grape varieties are used only in their village.  The only way I can make sense of this Savoie madness is to think of it like Cru Beaujolais, which, btw, only sounds like a French gang.

  1. Abymes (white wines)
  2. Apremont (white wines)
  3. Arbin (red wines)
  4. Ayze (sparkling wines)
  5. Chautagne (white and red wines)
  6. Chignin (white and red wines)
  7. Chignin-Bergeron (white wines)
  8. Crépy (white wines)
  9. Cruet (white wines)
  10. Jongieux (white and red wines)
  11. Marignan (white wines)
  12. Marin (white wines)
  13. Montmélian (white wines)
  14. Ripaille (white wines)
  15. Saint-Jean-de-la-Porte (red wines)
  16. Saint-Jeoire-Prieuré (white wines)

Any of the cru that make both red and white wines can also make Rosé.

So here’s what Vin de Savoie wine labels look like (notice the coat of arms on each label):


Mont Granier (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perhaps the best known cru in Savoie is Apremont, which means “bitter mountain” in French.  Sometime around 1248, the entire side of Mont Granier sheered off and caused a massive landslide down into the valley, completely destroying five villages and killing over 1,000 people.  But on the plus side, the landslide created a soil that’s a mix of limestone and rock debris, which is great stuff if you’re a grape grower.

By far, the most helpful and effective tool I found to help make sense of Savoie is this visual organizer from Alex Redfern.  If you think in pictures, this will be your Savoie Ah-ha! moment.

Savoie Triangle

Photo used by permission.

Until very recently (a couple of weeks ago recently), Savoie sparkling wine was sold as Vin de Savoie Pétillant or Vin de Mousseux, both of which translate to sparkling in French.  But now, the French Ministry of Agriculture (the INAO, or Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité) has awarded Savoie a Cremant de Savoie status for the 2014 harvest.  I’m a little unclear as to whether this is a probationary AOC status or a permanent one.  Regardless, folks in Savoie are pretty excited about it.  Wanting to preserve a regional quality to the wines, INAO rules stipulate that 60% of the Cremant de Savoie blend must consist of the local grapes Jacquère and Altesse.  40% of the final blend must be Jacquère, and the balance can be made up of Chasselas, Aligoté and Chardonnay.  Sparkling wines from the Ayze cru will be allowed to continue to use their name on labels.

Savoie is supposed to be the perfect wine for Cheese Fondue.  I feel like I’ve tried to pair Cheese Fondue with just about every wine (and I’m almost embarrassed to admit this), but I don’t think I’ve ever tried it with a Savoie wine.  But I remembered the distinctive white cross coat of arms on the bottle, so I checked my Cellar Tracker tasting notes.  I’m wildly inconsistent with Cellar Tracker.  I’m religious about keeping track of my wines, but terrible about writing tasting notes.  But back in 2007, I did taste a bottle of Pierre Boniface Vin de Savoie Apremont 2005 — and I wrote a note!  It appears I was unimpressed, as my tasting note says:

Imagine my surprise when I opened this bottle, poured a glass and there were bubbles!  Not just a slight effervescence, but foaming, audible, cheap champagne-esque bubbles.  Gotta be flawed.

Apremont isn’t supposed to be bubbly . . . is it??  Savoie aficionado, Alex Redfern, told me some producers of Apremont, Abymes and Crépy add a dose of Carbon Dioxide just prior to bottling which can result in a slight effervescence, although this practice is becoming more and more rare.  Perhaps I got a hold of one of those bottles.

DSCN5431Last Friday was my birthday, an occasion I shamelessly use as an excuse to make myself a vat of hot melted cheese.  And I paired it with a Savoie Jacquère.

Domaine Les Cantates Vin de Savoie Chignin Jacquère 2012
No bubbles!  Super-clean nose of slate and seashells.  Very lightweight, almost delicate. Flavors are pear, lime, apple and white peach. A knockout with the Cheese Fondue.  The acidity in the wine lends a much-needed balance to the heaviness of the cheeses.
Vin de Savoie is my new Cheese Fondue wine!  12% ABV.  $15.

I’m less confused (mostly) and more impressed with the wines of Savoie then when I started researching this post, so Mission Accomplished!

Stay tuned for La Troisième Partie:  Jurançon.

A votre santé!

Tangling with Terroir: Hyland Estates Winery

hylandLearning about wine . . . one bottle at a time.  So says the tagline at the top of my blog’s home page.  There’s a lot of wine in this world, and sometimes I get ahead of myself in a rush to taste it all.  And I need to step back and remember this is a marathon, not a sprint.  Despite internet panic alarms to the contrary, the world isn’t going to run out of wine.  One bottle at a time is the perfect pace to learn.  It’s also the glacial pace I use to plow through my CSW materials.

Maybe it’s the former teacher in me, but I like to think every bottle of wine presents an opportunity to learn something, and visit somewhere.  It could be my own Virginia backyard, or someplace I’d only ever dream of going. Together with history & people, terroir is tethered to the wine in my glass.  Each bottle is a collateral lesson — in geography & climate and geology.  I like to think of the whole picture as the Terroir Tangle.

Last night, I visited the Willamette Valley of Oregon, courtesy of Hyland Estates Winery, and Protocol Wine Studio’s nifty online educational program, #winechat.  For the uninitiated, #winechat is a live wine tasting and discussion that takes place each Wednesday evening from 9-10pm EST on Twitter.  The topics, wines, and participants change each week.

We tasted a total of four bottles of Hyland Estates wine — 2 whites and 2 reds . . . one bottle at a time!

History & People:  The first vines were planted at Hyland in 1971, making it one of the oldest vineyards in Willamette Valley.  Prior to 1970, the valley was mostly berry fields and fruit trees. Hyland has over 200 acres, 100 of which are under vine.  Hyland’s Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Chardonnay vines were some of the first planted in Oregon.  And some of the biggest names in Oregon wine use Hyland Vineyard to make their own single-vineyard wines:  Penner-Ash, Bergstrom, Beaux Freres, and Antica Terra.  That’s good company, right there.

willamette valley

The Willamette Valley: You cannot learn about wine without a map!

Winemaker:  Laurent Montalieu (main winemaker) & Anne Sery (day-to-day winemaker)

Owners:  Laurent Montalieu, Danielle Andrus Montalieu, and John Niemeyer  (purchased in 2007)

Hyland Estate is biodynamically farmed.  We didn’t chat a lot about that particular angle last night (I can’t believe no one mentioned cow horns stuffed with manure), but it’s obvious the owners are committed to doing their part to tend to the terroir of tomorrow.  Applause, applause.

Geography & Climate:  The Willamette Valley is located in western Oregon.  It’s bound on the west by the Oregon Coast Range and bound on the east by the Cascade Range.  The WV has a mild climate with cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers. Hyland Estates is located within the McMinnville AVA, a sub-region of the Willamette Valley, and the western-most AVA in Oregon.  It’s also the smallest (it’s only about 20 miles), with only 10 wineries!  Located in the foothills of the Cascade Coast Range, the McMinnville vineyards are protected from potential weather extremes. Hyland Vineyard is planted at 600-800 feet, where temperatures are cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, allowing for a longer growing season (when the grapes are happy, the winemakers are happy).

Geology:  The Willamette Valley was repeatedly flooded at the end of the last Ice Age.  The floods brought with and deposited tons of volcanic and glacial soil from Washington.  The Willamette Valley’s signature soil is Jory, a volcanic soil composted mostly of basalt.  The soils in the McMinnville AVA are mostly marine sedimentary soils on top of basalt.  The McMinnville AVA sits on top of a large rock called the Nestucca Formation, a 2,000-foot-thick bedrock slab with a bunch of basalt intrusions.  This affects the composition of the ground water, which in turn affects the characteristics of the grapes.  This is a gift-wrapped opportunity to say something geeky at a wine tasting like, “Is it me, or do I detect a hint of basalt?”

Increasingly, it feels like Oregon is a wine region that can do no wrong.  If you’re opening a bottle of Oregon wine, chances are pretty high it’ll be a good, probably even a great wine.  All four of the wines we tasted fall into the latter category:

Hyland Riesling 2012 ⭐⭐⭐⭐/90-93
100% Riesling sourced from 43 year old, self-rooted Riesling vines.  Flint and petrol on the nose.  A second whiff gives me lemon bar.  Praise Bacchus!!  A deliciously dry (only 0.8% residual sugar) Riesling.  Immediate mouthfeel gives a light effervescence.  Beautifully balanced.  So clean and pure of character.  Killed it with pork carnitas for dinner!  12% ABV.  $25.

Hyland Gewürztraminer 2013 ⭐⭐⭐⭐/89-91
100 % Gewürztraminer, souced from 43 year old, self-rooted Gewürztraminer vines.  Is this wine part pheromone?  I’m thinking of wearing this wine as my new signature scent!  Abundant lychee and rose petals on the nose.  As the wine sits open, I get almond flower, as well. Another deliciously dry wine (only 0.4% residual sugar).  12% ABV.  $28.

I know this is my own palate talking . . . but my favorite thing about these two whites is that neither is congested with extraneous sugar.  Bravo!

Hyland Estate Pinot Noir 2011 ⭐⭐⭐⭐/89-91
100% Pinot Noir.  100% malolactic fermentation, barrel aged for 10 months in 20% new French oak, and the remainder in once-used barrels.  Sourced from Coury (a vine of mysterious origin, brought from France by Charles Coury) and Wädenswil (a Swiss clone, ideally suited for Oregon climate), both self-rooted vines planted in 1979 and 1989.  I get smoke and black pepper on the initial whiff.  A lot of good funk going on in this glass.  It took a while to coax out of the glass, but I finally found a just-ripe red currant.  Black olive on the finish.  Well structured with graceful tannins.  $38.

Hyland Coury Pinot Noir 2012 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐/93-95
100% Coury Pinot Noir.  Whole cluster ferment.  Aged for 10 months in French oak, 35% new, and the remainder in once-used barrels.  This is one of those you-know-it’s gonna-be-good-before-you-even-taste-it wines.  Strawberry and nutmeg on the nose.  Not sure how a wine this elegant can be this powerful.  Layer after layer of flavor.  Incredible plush mouthfeel.  A toe-curling wine that I don’t want to share with anyone!  Will age beautifully, but a splendid glass of wine right now.  $60.  And worth every penny.

The other three wines are GRRR-EAT (read as Tony the Tiger), but hands down, Coury was the winner of the night for me!

Thanks to winemaker, Anne Sery, for taking the time to chat with all of us, to Sacred Drop Marketing for providing such wonderful background materials, and to Protocol Wine for organizing and facilitating such a great night!



Disclaimer:  All of the wines I tasted for this post were samples from the winery.


Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 11

This week’s wine words come from Katherine Cole, wine columnist for The Oregonian newspaper.  Last fall, Good Food Revolution conducted an online interview with Katherine.
I read these words, and immediately hit command P on my laptop.


I’m never going to be the grand marshall at an Earth Day parade, but I try to do little things to take care of the earth today . . . so my kids can still use it tomorrow.  And wine has presented me with a lot of opportunities to be a caretaker.

I order a ton of wine online.  And all that wine arrives protected inside special wine shippers, sealed inside cardboard boxes.  My kids are too old (mostly) to make forts out of the boxes, so I cut them up and recycle them.  Easy.  The wine shippers, specifically the styrofoam ones, are more problematic.

As proof that wine is a gateway drug to environmentalism, I’ve just spent the last 3 hours of my life researching the pros and cons of styrofoam (EPS) wine shippers vs. recycled pulp shippers. I hadn’t realized this is is such a hot-button issue — for both wine retailers and consumers. Pick your favorite wine community message board, and do a quick search.  You’ll find pages of heated debate on the subject.


If you’re a data junkie, Wine Business conducted an Informal Test of Wine Shippers.  All the different variables got a little too sciency for me, but the bottom-line “seems to suggest that EPS’s insulating capacity is comparable to a pulp and cardboard system.”  This is handy news, because . . .

I’m not on team styrofoam.  My county doesn’t recycle styrofoam wine shippers (EPS #6 in recycle lingo).  A few years ago, I wouldn’t have cared how or even whether to recycle styrofoam.  It just went in the trash.  Today, I at least feel guilty about putting it into the trash. Aside from building an entire wine cellar out of styrofoam, I can’t think of anything else to do with it.  Plus . . . styrofoam leaves annoying, statically charged little flakes all over my wine bottles.  And styrofoam makes an extremely irritating noise.

I much prefer recycled pulp shippers.  They’re far easier to recycle on my end.  Pulp shipper haters will tell you they don’t provide enough protection (from temperature extremes or breakage) during shipment.  But I’ve never had a wine bottle break inside a pulp shipper before.   And I solve the potential temperature problem by not ordering wine during extremely hot or cold months.  Or, having the wine I do order held until it’s a little less extreme outside.

Wine bottles are easy-peasy to recycle — just throw them into the bin.  Or you can reuse/repurpose them — Pinterest is flooded with ideas.  One of the most popular blog posts I’ve ever written is about repurposing wine bottles as tiki torches.  I wish it was popular because of my insightful writing, but I know the deal.  People love crafts.


And wine corks?  I save all of them.  Well, I save all of the natural corks (synthetic corks annoy me).  I’m pretty sure I’ve made every conceivable cork craft.  I have cork bulletin boards, cork mosaics, cork wreaths, cork trivets, cork birdhouses, cork ornaments, cork jewelry, cork fire-starters, and cork keychains.  Etcetera ad nauseam.  But what I really have is a house full of decorative glass containers filled with corks.  My decorating style is eclectic wine chic.

The next step in wine environmentalism is probably to jump on the biodynamics bus. Katherine Cole authored a book (which I have not yet read) about biodyamic winemaking in Oregon called, Voodoo Vintners.  Honestly, I think biodynamics is a little kooky, but there’s no denying some of the best names in winemaking use the techniques.  And use them successfully.

Sidebar:  I will be participating in a live wine tasting from 9-10pm EST on Twitter tonight with Hyland Estates Winery in Dundee, Oregon.  Hyland Estates is farmed biodynamically, and I can’t wait to taste these wines and learn more about the process.  If you’d like to follow along or (even better) participate, use #winechat on Twitter.

Last fall, I wrote a post about biodynamic wine:  My Brush with the Biodynamic.  I’m re-blogging the first paragraph below.  If you want to keep reading, just click on the link.

Biodynamic wine.  Apparently, this is a touchy issue in the wine world, and I’m not going to poke that bear.  I don’t have a beef with biodynamic winemaking, I just don’t get it. Which is a little annoying, because I’ve tasted biodynamic wines that are exceptional.  Are they exceptional because they’re biodynamic?  Dunno.  I can’t wrap my brain around it. Biodynamic wine reminds me of an eccentric uncle — a little left of weird, but probably harmless.

I’m still not ready to start planting cow horns filled with the manure of a lactating cow in my backyard, but I’ll keep doing my little parts to take care of the terroir of tomorrow.