Saturday, October 9, 2010

Joining the Willamette Century Club, Part Deux!

This blog entry picks up at about 1:25 pm on Saturday, October 2nd. My group of six wine geeks (plus one designated driver) was touring the Willamette Valley, aiming to taste 100 wines in a day. We'd accomplished 70 wines by about 1:30pm and only, (more like "only") 30 wines to go. Feeling confident but a bit hungry, I was enjoying the sights and sounds of Willamette Valley, along with the delicious wines. As I mentioned in my last entry, my strategy was to spit as much as possible, as well as to drink as much water as I could. This was helping, Dan and I were the most sober of the group, and our palates felt the freshest by my count.

Leaving the somewhat frosty tasting room lady behind at Scott Paul Wines, we went across the street to Solena to taste some wines. I was anxious to try their 2007 Domaine Danielle Laurent, which came highly recommended from some Twitter friends of mine. It didn't disappoint, bringing ripe cherry and berry flavors along with intense spice and cedar notes. Earning a B and at $45, a good bottle of wine.

My favorite was the 2006 Del Rio Syrah, with dark plum and blueberry, smooth tannins and earthy minerality. Wonderfully delicious wine. An A-, coming in at $30 retail.

From Solena Estates we walked down the street to Seven of Hearts to taste more wines. Here we met the founder/owner Byron Dooley. You could see the passion and enthusiasm he had for Oregon wines as he poured for our group and the various others in the tasting room with us. We ended up tasting 12 wines with Byron, all of them were good to very good with a few that were truly exceptional.

2008 Yahmhill-Carlton District Elvenglade Vineyard Chardonnay - Citrus, cream, pastry notes jump at your nose, hints of spicy oak follow them. A restraining acidity washes across your palate, bringing pear, green apple, citrus and a creamy smooth finish. Tropical notes give a vivacious feel to this delicious Chardonnay. A- and a real QPR winner at only $24 a bottle. 

2009 Chatte D'Avignon Viognier/Roussanne Columbia Valley Oregon Rattlesnake Road Vineyard - Try saying that entire phrase three times quickly! This was the first time I'd had a domestic example of a white Rhone-style wine. Combining stone fruit with vibrant acidity and tropical notes, I instantly felt like having some fish tacos to go with my taste of wine. Simply delicious. A- and a steal at $20 per bottle.

2009 Luminous Hills Pinot Noir LUX - Good heavens. Spicy, earthy, delicate, intense. I felt like I was drinking a riper version of a great Burgundy. Wonderfully silky tannins, subtle herbs, strawberries and raspberries. The only real flaw in my opinion was the high alcohol, clocking in at 15%! While it wasn't overly noticeable, I did detect heat on the finish and simply believe Pinot Noir shouldn't be that high, ever. Only 152 cases produced and it's on pre-sale right now. If you buy at the pre-release price of $29.75, it's a ridiculous deal. Even at it's release of $35, it's a great bottle of wine. Comparable to Pinots that cost double. A-.

These were three wines I wanted to highlight from Seven of Hearts, but they don't represent all the good wines I tasted that day. I highly recommend checking out the website and if you're in the area, stopping by to visit. Mr. Dooley may not make a lot of wine but he makes some truly wonderful wines and has a palpable passion that you can't help but admire.

 Here is where we stopped for lunch. Right next to Scott Paul Wines tasting room and across the street from Solena Estate's tasting room. Dan packed a cooler full of water, energy drinks, Starbucks double shots, olives, carrots, and sandwich supplies. Unfortunately, we didn't bring condiments of any kind, as well as not bringing lettuce or tomatoes for the sandwiches. Since this was the first time the Willamette Century Club has attempted such a feat, it was to be expected that we could find areas to improve.

I guess at this point I should note that there is a real "Willamette Valley Century Club" out there. They're a group that works on tasting 100 different grape varietals. No time frame that I can discern, just 100 different varietals of wine. I say this is no big challenge for any real wine geek. Try tasting 100 wines in a day, staying sober, taking accurate notes, and asking intelligent questions to the tasting room staff. Yea, that's what I thought. Our club is way cooler. Now with that proverbial shot across the bow, we return to discussing how things were going at this point.

So with the wonderful Byron Dooley at Seven of Hearts Wine helping us get up to 89 wines, we were well on our way to the goal of 100. Now it was time to make the 30-40 minute journey out to Argyle for some sparkling wine. I'd sold Argyle wines in retail shops for years and knew them fairly well. As one of the wineries to help put Oregon on the map, I still get asked about Argyle at my current job.

Argyle's tasting room was full, a testament to their popularity. We all opted for the sparkling flight and ended up tasting seven different wines, both sparkling and still.

2006 Knudsen Vineyard Brut - Deliciously dry and refreshing with notes of lemon, custard, yeast, perfume and acidity. A blend of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay, this was  the best sparkler out of all we tasted. Unfortunately it was expensive, coming in at $50 a bottle. Still, I enjoyed the Knudsen and felt it was a good example of Oregon sparkling wine. B+

2008 Minus Five - Sweet, smooth, like honey mixed with nectar and ripe apricots. Absolutely wonderful and a perfect way to end a meal. I'd pair this with key lime pie, or any pie. I'm a pie junkie. You could also drizzle this beauty over some ice cream, delicious! A-. Expect to pay around $30 per bottle for a 375 ml.

Argyle makes very accessible, friendly wines that are a good way to get to know Oregon styles. The staff knew their stuff and were able to answer my questions about the sparkling and still wines our group tasted.

Wow, 97 wines had come and gone! Where did the day go? If you're still with me to this point, you know I've tasted some amazing wine. I can't tell you how tempting it was to just whip out my Visa and buy bottle after bottle of wine to take home with me. Dan had sure done his homework and gotten us into some great wineries and tasting rooms.

 So we're on the final few wines, 98-100. I should note at this point that Chas had apparently missed a wine..At Elk Cove. The FIRST winery we went to! He was one behind us and we collectively decided that everyone had to taste 100 wines or it was a waste of time. So, we departed Argyle and went up the hill to White Rose Winery. I'd never heard of White Rose before, but it was a beautiful facility up in the Dundee Hills.

So here we go, the home stretch of wines!
2007 Quiotee's Lair Pinot Noir Dundee Hills - Great color, earthy with herbs and dried cherries on the nose. Restrained across the palate, lively acidity, interesting orange pith notes on the smoothly tannic finish. B+. $45 retail per bottle.

2007 Mercotti's Milieu Pinot Noir Dundee Hills - Complex nose of baking spices, hints of bittersweet chocolate and oak, damp earth. Expressive flavors of dried fruit, anise, subtle vanilla and well integrated tannins. A-. $32 per bottle, a great deal.

Wow, wine #100, finally! At the beginning of Saturday, Dan and I expressed our hope that by the end of the day, we'd still have our wits about us. However, pretty much everyone was still doing well at this point. We'd tasted a lot of wine but the discussion was lively and opinions flew back and forth like grapes in a de-stemmer.

2007 Dragon's Bluff White Rose Vineyard Dundee Hills Pinot Noir - We tasted this one, out of a total of 144 cases produced, and everyone was very impressed. Light but intense, big flavors of earth, subtle vegetal and florals, background of dried cherry and strawberry. The acidity gave the wine life, the tannins were round and gave the mid palate a nice supple texture. As it finished, whiffs of oak and mocha were the wine's goodbye. Stellar stuff, highly recommended. A. Lists at $60 retail.

 And that, my readers, draws the journey to a close. I'm proud to say I tasted 100 wines in one day. I had a great time with the group and Dan deserves all the credit for putting together everything and inviting me along. In retrospect, there are some places I would love to visit next time I'm in the area, to take more time and talk wine with the tasting room people. Most of them were gracious and wonderful, some were frosty, harried, rude or pretentious, but isn't that part of the wine industry? We may work to remove those attitudes but they didn't affect the outcome of my glorious day in the Willamette Valley.

 I urge you to visit Portland and the Willamette Valley, please feel free to email or tweet at me if you have any questions and I'll do my best to get answers for you. The wines I tasted were all small production, artisan wines. Sure they were a bit pricey, in some cases they were very pricey, however that shouldn't diminish your enthusiasm for tasting new wines even if you don't buy a bottle. In the interests of full disclosure, our tasting room fees were waived at multiple wineries because we did have two industry people with us. Other wineries gave discounted tasting rates as well as industry discounts on our purchases.

So there you have it, 100 wines, one day, six guys in a minivan. What an adventure.

Beau Carufel


  1. This write up is fantastic dude. Thanks for taking the time to put it together!

  2. My pleasure, thanks for taking the time to organize the entire day, most impressive!

  3. It was an experience I'll always remember, no matter where my wine career takes me. I would love to say that I'd recommend it to anyone but doing something like this just isn't for all..It's even tough in a lot of ways, keeping your head screwed on and staying focused.