Zinfandel Experience begins in SF, Thursday January 18th!

While the trade portion gets going earlier in the week, you can still get the Zinfandel Experience with tickets to a few events that are not already sold out!

Flights: January 19, 10:30-1pm
Moderated by Joel Peterson, winemaker of Ravenswood Winery.
Aimed at the true wine aficionado with a keen curiosity, this seated seminar-style tasting allows attendees to experience the true character of Zinfandel through the eyes of experts.

Grand Tasting: January 20, 11am-5pm
The weekend’s main event is the Grand Tasting, where you will meet the winemakers at the most comprehensive showing of Zinfandels and blends in the world and experience a selection of sumptuous culinary samples from restaurants and winery chefs.

Winemaker Auction & Dinner: January 19
Unfortunately this event is already SOLD OUT.  However, if you happen to be a lucky ticket holder be sure to look for my special Auction Package #20 and bid high! The live and silent auctions will showcase one-of-a-kind lots, rare bottles, and winery experiences with proceeds benefitting ZAP’s programming.

The Thrilling Oregon Rieslings of 2017 – Part II

To start off the new year in style, below is the second segment of my notes and reviews of the top Oregon Rieslings I tasted in the second half of 2017. Most of these wines were originally tasted at Nick’s Restaurant in McMinnville, following the conclusion of the annual International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC). Besides myself and a small group of wine writers and sommeliers; other people at this event included Oregon Riesling Alliance (ORA) members Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem Winery and Sheila Nicholas of Anam Cara Cellars, as well as Sally Murdoch of the Oregon Wine Board.

Needless to say, I can’t wait to taste the new releases in 2018. But if you feel intrigued by travel to the Oregon wine country to sample these wines over the next few months, I certainly recommend that you do! For more information about the Oregon Riesling Alliance and the upcoming Oregon Riesling Revival events, visit www.oregonriesling.net and www.oregonwine.com.

Airlie 2016 Dry Riesling, Old Vines, Willamette Valley. $20 / 93 pts
Known for its portfolio of hand-crafted boutique wines, this new release from the Corvallis-based Airlie Winery reflects the passion for Riesling shared by winemaker Elizabeth Clark and proprietor Mary Olson. Bright and elegant, this stylish medium-body wine opens up with alluring scents of ripe melons, honeysuckle, celery salt and fresh flowers. On the palate, flavors of green apple, lemongrass, cantaloupe, mineral and white pepper are balanced with a pleasurable combination of silky texture, crisp acidity, and a dry finish. www.airliewinery.com

Airlie 2015 Riesling, Willamette Valley – $16 / 88 pts
Intriguing scents of candied pineapple, lime, wild herbs and earth tones. Distinct flavors of ripe melons, citrus and hints of ginger and white soy leading to an acidic sensation that creates a tasty wine that is crisp, playful, and refreshing. Great buy for the price. www.airliewinery.com

Anam Cara 2014 Riesling, Nicholas Estate, Chehalem Mountains. $22 / 92 pts
Located near Newberg, Nicolas Estate has emerged as one of the great Riesling vineyards of the Chehalem Mountains AVA. Modeled after the classic medium-dry style Rieslings crafted in Germany and the Alsace region of France; the 2014 vintage was made with fruit from the original acre of vines developed by proprietors Sheila and Nick Nicholas in 2001 and a separate two-acre parcel on the estate that was planted in 2008. Big, bright and lively, the wine features attractive aromas of Meyer lemon, ripe quince, honeysuckle and a freshly opened jar of macadamia nut.  In the glass, the citrus-driven flavors of fresh grapefruit, lime, lemon curd, sweet tarts, mineral and tangy acidity create a complex profile and a persistent finish. Pure refreshment in every sip. www.anamcaracellars.com

Aram Cara 2013 Riesling, Nicolas Estate, Estate Grown, Chehalem Mountains – $22 / 93 pts
Dynamic aromas of wild flowers, ripe stone fruits, melon, citrus and petrol. On the palate, the crisp and refreshing flavors of Anjou pear, green apple, cantaloupe and fresh quince are complimented with citrusy sensations of ripe lime and Meyer lemon, a hint of raw honey, and a long zesty finish. This wine recieved a Gold medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, which I judged as well. Therefore, besides being an instant crowd-pleaser; it is also very youthful and a great example of a Riesling that gets more elegant over time. www.aramcaracellars.com

Argyle 2015 Spirithouse Riesling, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley – $35 / 91 pts
As part of the Master Series at Argyle Winery, this flavorful, limited-release gem is made with fruit from the winery’s Lone Star Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills. To preserve the fresh and expressive flavors, the wine is fermented to dry and aged in neutral barrels. Delicate, with a beautiful light straw hue. The perfumed nose is filled with lively scents of spring flowers, ripe fruits, chamomile tea and fresh herbs. On the palate, the core flavors of ripe melon, white peach and lychee are balanced with a brilliant combination of elegant texture, tangy acidity, and long, dry finish. Refreshing, graceful and very food-friendly. Only 200 cases made. www.argylewine.com

Argyle 2015 Riesling, Nuthouse Vineyard, Estate Grown, Eola-Amity Hills – $30 / 88 pts
Crafted with fruit from three special blocks at the Nuthouse Vineyard in Eola-Amity Hills, this small-production Riesling was aged in 80% stainless steel and 20% neutral barrels. On the nose, the senses are energized with concentrated notes of exotic fruits, lemongrass, raw coconut, macadamia nuts and overall freshness. On the palate, distinctive notes of pineapple, cantaloupe and coconut are lifted with a lively mouthfeel, crisp acidity, and a spicy finish to heighten the experience. www.argylewine.com

Brandborg 2015 Riesling, Elkton Valley, Oregon – $16 / 92 pts
For a flavorful selection from Southern Oregon, try this new release from Brandborg Vineyards and Winery. This unique wine is a blend of premiere fruit from the Bradley Vineyard and the Anindor Vineyard, which are planted near the small farming community of Elkton and the Umpqua River in 1983. The Elkton clone, featured at both sites, is named after Ken Thomason Elkton, who planted the original Riesling vines in this charming region in 1972. On the nose, the wine features floral aromas of fresh jasmine, magnolia blossom, chamomile tea, lemongrass, honey and ripe tree fruits. In the glass, the medium-bodied flavors of pineapple, tangerine, exotic melon, lime, cucumber and spicy notes are masterfully integrated with a rich, round and waxy texture, a burst of crisp acidity, and a long tangy finish. www.brandborgwine.com.

Brooks 2016 Riesling, Old Vines, Willamette Valley – $20 / 93 pts Crafted with mature vines and a variety of intriguing Riesling clones planted in a special selection of microclimates and classic Willamette Valley soils; this bright, cheery and provocative wine offers abundant aromas of fresh wildflowers, white peach, apricot, fresh citrus, and lingering hints of petrol, beeswax and orange blossom. In the glass, the energetic fruit notes of ripe peach, white cherry and exotic melon are accented with layers of spicy and a bone-dry finish. Dry, classy and complex. www.brookswine.com

Brooks 2016 Riesling, Ingram Lane Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills – $26 / 94 pts
Developed by Bethel Heights Winery in 2008, the Ingram Lane Vineyard is planted in the signature volcanic soils of the Eola-Amity Hills. As a true interpretation of the site, this new release immediately leaps out of the glass with fresh floral aromas interlaced with vibrant notes of ripe stone fruits, zesty citrus, wild herbs, mineral, and spiced nuts.  These delights continue on the palate with persistent flavors of green apple, papaya, tangy grapefruit, fresh lime, tangerine peel and clove, intertwined with crisp acidity, natural verve, and a rich, silky texture. www.brookswine.com

Brooks 2016 ARA Riesling, Old Vines, Willamette Valley – $38 / 96 pts
Although the “ARA” Riesling is named for the Alter constellation; here on earth, it’s really more of a “statement” wine focused on crafting a world-class Riesling with flavorful fruit from old vines and two classic soil types of Willamette Valley: volcanic basalt and marine sediment. In the glass, this enticing blend opens up with dazzling aromas of ripe stone fruits, melon, fresh citrus, wild herbs, and sea smoke. On the palate, the core flavors of ripe apple, pear and peach are accented with citrusy notes of lemon, lime, grapefruit, mineral and a kiss of oak. As these flavors expand, spicy notes emerge with underpinnings of crisp acidity and a long, graceful finish. Overall, a terrific introduction to the wonders of Oregon Riesling, and a great domestic brand to follow if you love Riesling. www.brookswine.com

Brooks 2016 Sweet P Riesling, Willamette Valley – $28 / 92 pts
Sweet P is a shortened version of the endearing nickname winery founder Jimi Brooks called his son, Pascal. Therefore, to preserve the purity of fruit, high acidity and the youthful attributes associated with mature vines planted on special sites, this medium-dry Riesling is fermented without the addition of yeast. The result is a complex wine that starts with heady aromas of white flowers, fresh melon, citrus and peach, enlivened with subtle nuances of honeysuckle and tangerine blossom. From there, the ripe and fleshy flavors of passionfruit, tangerine, white peach and Casaba melon mingle with spicy notes of ginger, cardamom and pumpkin spice. To add more depth, the layers of sweetness are balanced with refreshing acidity to create a fresh, vibrant finish that makes you want more. Pair with fresh cheeses, prosciutto & melon, spicy dishes, and savory tarts. www.brookswine.com

Chehalem 2015 Three Vineyards, Willamette Valley. $20 / 92 pts
Reminiscent of high-class Rieslings from the Old World with an Oregon twist, the Chehalem Three Vineyards Riesling is designed around capturing the complex flavors of three distinct estate vineyards—Stoller, Ridgecrest and Corral Creek—inside each bottle. This new release features fragrant floral aromas of jasmine, lemongrass, candied ginger, exotic fruits and slate. In the glass, the crisp and youthful flavors of green apple, sweet mango, papaya and accents of mineral and spice lead to an amiable sweet and tangy finish. The end result is a well-balanced wine that offers instant refreshment of the palate and lively flavors that pair nicely with a wide range of fresh cuisine. Terrific. www.chehalemwine.com

Chehalem 2015 Riesling, Corral Creek Vineyard, Chehalem Mountains $25 / 93 pts
Although he was not part of the original group of pioneers that planted the first Riesling vines in Willamette Valley in the 1970s, Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem Winery has been one of the key leaders of the resurgence of Oregon Riesling movement over the past fifteen years. From the best blocks on the families Corral Creek Vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains, this fantastic new offering features tropical aromas interlaced with dazzling notes of candied fruit, honeysuckle, kerosene and wet stones. As the wine opens up, the complex flavors of white peach, poached pear, papaya, exotic melon and kiss of honey are balanced with a rich, smooth and viscous texture, zippy acidity, and a long, refreshing finish. In short, a dazzling example of a Oregon Riesling with a true sense of place in every sip. www.chehalemwine.com

Chehalem 2015 Riesling, Wind Ridge Block, Ribbon Ridge. $25 / 93 pts
As the name suggests, the Wind Ridge Block is located in a very windy section of the Ridgecrest Estate Vineyard, a high-elevation site in the Ribbon Ridge AVA. For that reason, the berries have a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity when they are picked. From the warm 2015 vintage, this new release with lofty floral aromas and generous flavors of candied mango, papaya and tangerine peel are further enhanced with underlying notes of fresh herbs, spice, mineral, and a long, seamless finish. Delicious now, the wine will continue to develop for years to come. www.chehalemwine.com

Cristom 2016 Riesling, Tunkalilla Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills – $22 / 96 pts
Situated next to one of the classic Cristom Pinot Noir vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA; the Riesling blocks at the Tunkalilla Vineyard were developed by Brian and Ann Crosen in 2005. On the nose, this new release features fragrant floral aromas, accented with hints of ripe melons, beeswax, mineral and wild herbs. As the wine opens up, the lovely flavors of ripe peach, melon, golden delicious apple, raw coconut and citrus rind become more complex, concentrated and tangy. The end result is a world-class Riesling that is sophisticated, sexy, and definitely worth exploring in more detail.  www.cristomvineyards.com

Elk Cove 2016 Estate Riesling, Willamette Valley – $19 / 93 pts
Crafted by talented winemaker Adam Campbell and the staff at Elk Cove Winery, near the quaint hamlet of Gaston in the northwestern segment of Willamette Valley; this elegant, food-friendly wine opens up with enticing aromas of fresh stone fruits, wild sage, honeysuckle, mineral and lime. The flavor profile is packed with lively notes of tart apple, ripe pineapple, candied mango, green tea, white pepper and fresh acidity, leading to a long crisp and refreshing finish. An easy Riesling to fall in love with—especially for the price.  www.elkcove.com

Lemelson Vineyards 2015 Dry Riesling, Estate Grown, Willamette Valley – $19 / 91 pts
Made with the fruit from the certified organic Meyer Vineyard on the hillside above Dundee, this dazzling new release from Lemelson Vineyards features aromas of lemon zest, dried flowers, ginger and ripe stone fruits. On the palate, the ripe and enchanting flavors of crisp green apple, tart pear and ripe pineapple are accented with notes of fresh lemon, Kaffir lime, mineral and a burst of racy acidity leading to a lean, dry finish. In addition to drinking great on its own; this is also a great wine to pair with fruit-based salads, shellfish, Vietnamese cuisine, and other delicate dishes. Great value too.  www.lemelsonvineyards.com

Love and Squalor 2014 Riesling, Willamette Valley – $20 / 86 pts
Need to get in touch with mother nature? If so, try this deep, vibrant and mature wine from Portland Wine Company. Made with premium fruit from older Riesling vines, this intriguing wine starts off with fresh and funky aromas of waxy fruits, dried flowers, lemongrass and tart citrus. In the glass, the flavor profile is anchored with ripe tropical fruits, mango, papaya and jack-o-fruit, as well as sweet and tangy notes lemon drops and key lime pie. While this creative wine is a departure from the more bright and fresh styles of Oregon Rieslings, it definitely offers plenty of personality, intensity and plenty of dense flavors that are tart and savory, instead of sweet and cloying. Pair with gourmet salads with tangy dressings, grilled veggies, stuffed mushrooms, Jamaican Jerk Chicken, roasted goat, and other styles of spicy cuisine. www.portlandwinecompany.com

Love and Squalor 2014 Sunnyside Vineyard, Willamette Valley – $20 / 85 pts
From the famed Sunnyside Vineyard planted near Salem in 1971; this stately single-vineyard designate wine opens up with vibrant notes of sweet and sour fruits, ripe citrus, earth, and exotic flowers. The flavor profile is layered with ripe stone fruits, raw sugar cane, honey and fresh herbs. Austere, intriguing, and an interesting pairing to try with rich cheeses, fresh mussels and fine Asian cuisine. Only 25 cases made. www.portlandwinecompany.com

Ponzi 2015 Riesling, Willamette Valley – $22 / 92 pts
Representing the 45-year anniversary of Ponzi Vineyard, one of the pioneer brands of Willamette Valley; the Ponzi 2015 Riesling is a true charmer to the senses. On the nose, the beauty and natural energy of this wine comes through with vibrant notes of ripe stone fruits, fresh jasmine, fresh herbs, tangy citrus and graphite. While zesty flavors of white peach, ripe apricot, lemon and tart lime pie provide the fruit core, the fresh acidity and delicate texture carry through to a long, satisfying finish. Fresh, elegant and full-bodied, it’s a great Riesling to serve with goat cheese, fresh seafood, and richer, spicier dishes. www.ponzivineyards.com

Rain Dance 2016 Estate Riesling, Nicholas Vineyard, Chehalem Mountains. $22 / 89 pts
Taste-tempting scents of white flowers, ripe fruits, melon and lemongrass lead to refreshing flavors of ripe apple, lime and grapefruit, creamy texture, and lingering finish. Fun, fresh and approachable. www.raindancevineyards.com.

Yamhill Valley 2014 Riesling, McMinnville – $18 / 91 pts
The original Riesling blocks at Yamhill Valley Vineyards near McMinnville were planted on their own roots in 1983 and 1985. Therefore, as this wine deliciously demonstrates, there are advantages to having mature vines. As a very approachable medium-bodied Riesling, the flavors are framed with charming aromas of magnolia blossom, fresh cantaloupe, lemon and delicate Asian spices. Ripe, lively and expressive flavors of apple, tangerine, mango and lemon are balanced with a succession of sweet, tangy and creamy nuances leading to a clean finish. Lovely, complete, and convincing to the very last drop. www.yamhill.com

Exploring the joys of fine Oregon Rieslings – Part I

As much as I enjoy writing about new wine trends, I’m always happy to hear about the resurgence of classic grape varieties that suddenly come back in style after years of being overlooked. One of the exciting cases in point is the recent Oregon Riesling Revival.

With a rich history dating back over 2,000 years, this noble white grape is known for its fragrant aromas, complex flavors, and a wide range of stylish world-class wines crafted with varying levels of sweetness, bright acidity, and balance.  After gaining notoriety in Germany, the love for this grape spread to Austria and the Alsace region of France before becoming a very productive varietal planted in premiere winegrowing regions in the New World over the past century.

In Oregon, it’s a journey that began when University of California Davis graduate Richard Sommer planted the first Riesling vines in the Umpqua Valley near Rosenburg in 1961. A few years after Sommer released the debut of the 1963 Riesling under his Hillcrest Vineyards label, a new series of pioneer winegrowers began planting the varietal further north in the cool climate region of Willamette Valley.

In the 1970s, this trend was helped along by the growing popularity of sweet wines in the US marketplace. As a result, Riesling accounted for nearly a quarter of Oregon’s total wine production by the early 1980s. But when the focus began to shift toward the exciting new plantings of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris later that decade, a large percentage of Riesling and other aromatic white grapes like Gewurztraminer, Muller Thurgau and Pinot Blanc were either pulled out or the fruit was used to make simple white wines or sold on the bulk market.

My selfie with the amazing winemakers of Oregon Rieslings!
My selfie with the amazing winemakers of Oregon Rieslings!

Around fifteen years ago, the rebirth of the varietal in Oregon began when a new wave of vintners, growers and winemakers with a passion for Riesling banded together and eventually formed the Oregon Riesling Alliance. In 2009, my first encounter with this energetic group came when vintner Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem Winery, a ORA member, invited me and Master of Wine/Master Sommelier Doug Frost to a secret pop-up dinner at the luxurious Joel Palmer House in the quaint town of Dayton in Willamette Valley. Since there was no discussion about the theme of the dinner and the event happened on the eve of the annual International Pinot Noir Celebration, Doug and I were convinced that the seven winemakers participating in the dinner would bring their latest Pinot Noir gems to share with us. Therefore, we were very excited when the mysterious wines hidden in brown bags turned out to be magnificent offerings of fine local Rieslings. On top of that, we were able to taste these finely-crafted wines along with delicious dishes created by rising star Chef Christopher Czarnecki, who had just taken over his family’s business at the Joel Palmer House in 2008. Needless to say, it was an enlightening evening that Doug and I will never forget!

For these reasons, it gives me great pleasure to say that the Oregon Riesling movement has gained much more momentum since that memorable night. Furthermore, the restoration of old vineyards and the development of new sites has resulted in the increase of Riesling vines planted in the state to 749 acres, with more room to grow. Better yet, with the help of better farming practices and access to a wider range of Riesling clones from Germany, France, Italy and Argentina, the quality to fruit is at its highest level as well.

Same is true in the cellars, where a growing number of Oregon producers are now using a new series of innovative techniques to capture the character of the grapes and pure expressions of the vineyards in the finished wines. This attention to detail includes everything from picking the fruit at higher levels of acidity and less sweetness; using more native yeasts and controlling the temperature during fermentation; preserving fresh, fruity flavors and adding more texture to the finished blends with the use of stainless steel tanks, neutral oak barrels, larger barrels or puncheons and concrete eggs; and keeping the best lots separate to make more limited-release single-vineyard designate wines. While the majority of these hip, modern-style of Oregon Rieslings are dry or medium-dry; there are plenty of tasty offerings of medium sweet and sweeter styles that balanced instead of being too sugary or cloying.

With these thoughts in mind, below is Part 1 of my list of favorite Oregon Rieslings I’ve tasted over the past six months. Besides being crisp, clean, elegant and very food-friendly, the affordable price points of $16-$36 make these wines that much more tempting, and another reason to visit the great winegrowing regions of Oregon!

For more information about the vintners and growers that are part of this current movement, visit the ORA website at www.oregonriesling.net or www.oregonwine.org.

#SawyerSomm: Thrilling Oregon Rieslings of 2017, Part I

More than any white grape varietal, the flavor profile of a well-made Riesling can offer a true sense of place. That is especially true in Willamette Valley, the well-respected winegrowing region south and southwest of Portland, which encompasses a wide array of microclimates, soil types and elevations that can produce very distinctive flavors. A few months ago, the Oregon Wine Board and the Oregon Riesling Alliance were nice enough to provided me and a handful of other wine writers with a rare opportunity to sit down with four passionate winemakers/proprietors—Lynn Penner-Ash of Penner-Ash Winery, Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Wines, Bryan Weil of Alexana Wines, and our gracious host James Frey of Trisaetum Vineyards and Gallery in Newberg, OR—to taste through a stylish assortment of world-class wines they make with Riesling grapes grown in Willamette Valley. Here is a collection of the “#SawyerSommReviews from that fantastic experience.

Penner-Ash 2015 Riesling, Willamette Valley – $24 / 93 pts
Following her love for Riesling, gifted winemaker Lynn Penner-Ash made this elegant white wine with pristine fruit from a series of well-respected vineyards located in the northern section of Willamette Valley. In the glass, the personality of these special sites come through with attractive scents ripe pear, orange blossom, oolong tea, ginger and fresh honey. On the palate, the gracious flavors of ripe pear, green apple, apricot and pineapple are underscored with crisp acidity, creamy texture, and hints of spice leading to a lip-smacking finish. Clean, crisp, elegant and dry, it’s a rockstar Riesling that over-delivers for the price.

Penner-Ash 2015 Old Vine Riesling, Hyland Vineyard, McMinnville – $35 / 96 pts
With 200 acres of vines planted at 600-800 feet in the foothills of the Coastal Range near Dundee, the Hylands Estate is one of the largest and most historic vineyard sites in Oregon. Lynn Penner-Ash is one of a handful of winemakers lucky enough to work with the Riesling blocks that were planted on a unique outcropping of ancient basalt soil in 1971. On the nose, the terroir-driven aromas of fresh gardenia flowers, ripe stone fruits, lychee and zesty citrus are enhanced with intriguing notes of orange peel, honeycomb, juniper berries and savory spices. In the glass, the delicious flavors of ripe white peach, Anjou pear, key lime pie, ginger snaps, mineral and roasted hazelnuts are balanced with a brilliant combination of silky texture, tangy acidity, great length, and a seamless finish. Elegant, refined and ageworthy. This is a great representative of the Oregon Riesling heritage and the priceless personality of a special site, all in one!

Alexana 2016 Estate Riesling, Revana Vineyard, Dundee Hills – $32 / 95 pts
Located in the Dundee Hills appellation, the Revana Estate is home to 55 acres of vineyards planted in a unique mixture of sedimentary silt and stones; volcanic stone and clay; and bedrock comprised of sedimentary and basalt below the surface. This new release of the Alexana 2016 Estate Riesling comes from a three-acre parcel on the south-east corner of the property, which provides plenty of cool breezes in the afternoon that help preserve the natural acidity in the berries. The result is a lovely aromatic gem with alluring scents of freshly picked stone fruits, honeysuckle, fresh lime zest, wet stones, and a hint of kerosene. In the mouth, the thirsty-quenching notes of green apple, lychee, lemon and grapefruit are balanced with a rich texture, structure, and a long, crisp and tangy finish. www.alexanawinery.com

Trisaetum 2016 Estate Riesling, Ribbon Ridge – $32 / 96 pts
With captivating scents of ripe tropical fruits, fresh citrus, honeycomb, tangerine blossom and sandstone, there is no doubt this is a lively and complex Riesling from the moment it hits the glass. On the palate, expressive flavors of ripe guava, papaya, lemon-lime and fresh quince are integrated with layers of subtle spices, creamy texture, and a tingly, mineral-driven finish. Flavorful and sophisticated, it’s a wine that gets better with more time in the glass and the cellar. www.trisaetum.com.

Trisaetum 2016 Estate Riesling, Wichmann Vineyard, Dundee Hills – $32 / 93 pts
Guided by smooth texture, natural acidity and a touch of sweetness; this elegant Riesling opens up with lofty aromas of fresh white flowers, ripe melons and candied fruits layered with attractive hints of honeysuckle, lemon verbena, white pepper and wet stones. These dazzling notes carry over to the palate, where sophisticated flavors of ripe pineapple, tangerine, mango and Meyer lemon lead to a long, dry finish that makes you want more. Lip-smacking goodness in every sip! www.trisaetum.com.

Trisaetum 2016 Coast Range Estate Dry Riesling, Yamhill-Carlton – $32 / 94 pts
Located in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, the vines at Trisaetum Coast Range Estate are planted on old volcanic soils dating back 45 million years. Therefore, the character of the site immediately pops with mineral-driven aromas interweaved with more fragrant notes of spring flowers, citrus and fresh stone fruits. On the palate, delicious flavors of white peach, poached pear, papaya and raw honey are balanced with a burst of perky acidity, a touch of French oak, and a bone-dry finish. Great presence from start to finish. www.trisaetum.com.

Montinore 2015 Reserve Riesling, Montinore Vineyard, Willamette Valley – $22 / 93 pts
From the Montinore Estate, a Demeter Certified Biodynamic vineyard near Forest Grove, comes the latest offering of the winery’s Reserve Riesling. With a lovely light golden hue, this complex wine opens up with fragrant scents of exotic fruits and zesty citrus mixed with more savory nuances of wild herbs, green olive and anise. In the glass, the tangy, fruit-driven flavors of ripe peach, passionfruit, fresh guava, grapefruit and lemon harmonize with hints of fresh thyme, forest floor, and spicy accents. Sassy, savory and oh so refreshing! www.montinore.com

Montinore 2015 Riesling Sweet Reserve, Montinore Vineyard, Willamette Valley – $18 / 91 pts
If you are looking for a little sweetness in your Riesling, Montimore has you covered! On the nose, this medium-sweet wine is brimming with aromatic notes of ripe tropical fruits, candied pineapple, fresh lime, beeswax and spring flowers. The core flavors of crisp apple, fresh lychee, ripe peach and lemon are punctuated with hints fresh ginger, mineral, and savory spices. Sweet, but perfectly balanced with bright acidity and a soft, graceful texture. www.montinore.com

Stay tuned for Part II of my
Oregon Riesling reviews for 2017!

Happy Holidays from The Sawyers!

Sending seasons greetings to you all with hopes for INCREDIBLE things in the new year! I am looking forward to continuing my work at Gravenstein Grill, new wine classes at Feast It Forward, several trips including my first to China, pursuing publication of my appellation book, a blog upgrade (heads up!) and lots of quality family time.  So enjoy friends, food and of course good wine over this winter holiday and embrace your own upcoming possibilities .

Many cheers to 2018!  Christopher 

The Robb Report: Sawyer’s wine pick with lamb!

Failla winemaker Ehren Jordan with our friend Mark Freund.
Failla winemaker Ehren Jordan with our friend Mark Freund.

This just in! SawyerSomm lamb and wine pairing featured in the Robb Report. Check out my selection below and see all the featured wines in the article 5 Wines to Pair with Lamb. Happy holidays and enjoy all those delicious meals (with good wine, of course)!

Failla 2015 Syrah Hudson Vineyard

The 2015 Syrah Hudson Vineyard ($56), a new release from Failla’s gifted winemaker Ehren Jordan, hails from the celebrated Hudson Vineyard in Carneros, an appellation that will celebrate its 35-year anniversary in 2018. Fittingly, before becoming a prominent winegrowing region, this area between Napa and Sonoma was well known for the young lambs that frolicked in the pastures. “Lofty scents of dark fruits, fresh violets, and roasted meats lead to concentrated flavors of dark cherry, wild berry, fresh truffle, black olives and layers of spice,” says Chris Sawyer, sommelier at Gravenstein Grill and founder of SawyerSomm.com. “It’s got fabulous texture, and a deep, rich, and rewarding finish that is a perfect match for lamb.”

Port wines with a Petaluma Twist

Looking for a wine gift to give someone special—or yourself for that matter? Then a great option is to get your hands on fine ports that can match up with a wide range of cheeses and desserts; sip gracefully when you are relaxing by the fire in the winter months; or hosting festive gatherings with friends and family all year long!

Twenty years ago, Portmaker Bill Reading took these thoughts to mind when he and his wife Caryn started developing DECO, a special port-style beverage infused with dark chocolate. Today, Bill makes a wide range of drinkable delights at Sonoma Portworks in Petaluma, California. In addition to DECO and DUET (an after-dinner Sherry with essence of natural hazelnut), the portworks offers a wide selection that include newest releases of flavorful ports, grappa, sherry and the Sonomic Red and Sonomic Gold (sweet and tart vinegars with a kick). See below for my recent reviews of the Aris Petite Sirah Port, Aris Petit Verdot Port and the fabulous new Norton Port, the deep and complex Reserve Port, as well as the sultry Maduro Reserve Tawny Port.

These delicious products can be purchased online at www.portworks.com. Or, better yet, you can visit Sonoma Portworks, which is located next to the bustling Aqus Café, just a few blocks from downtown Petaluma. During the holiday season, the Portworks tasting room is open Noon to 5 pm daily, except on Christmas and New Year.

Sonoma Portworks
613 2nd Street, Petaluma, CA 94952
707.769.5203

Sonoma Portworks Norton Port, Clarksburg / $38 (375ml)
Newsbreak: Norton Port makes its debut in California! Known for its ability to produce rich, full-bodied red wines with deep colors, complex flavors and bright acidity, Norton is a classic American grape varietal named after pioneer grape grower Daniel N. Norton of Richmond, Virginia in the early 1820s. After a successful wave of early plantings in the eastern and midwestern segments of United States before the turn of last century, the majority of the vines were ripped out between prohibition and the modern era. But thanks to a renewed interest in this intriguing dark-colored grape, newer plantings are now on the rise in important winegrowing areas stretching from Virginia to Missouri, and the West Coast.

To commemorate the resurgence of this historic grape, portmaker/proprietor Bill Reading of Sonoma Portworks and his wife Caryn, recently launched the first ever port made with Norton grapes grown California. Crafted with grapes harvested in 2012 and 2014 from premium vines planted in the Clarksburg appellation near Sacramento. This wine offers alluring scents of ripe red fruits, wild berries, caramel-coated popcorn, anise, and integrated layers of earth and spice. Deep and dark with a rich, lavish texture, the flavor profile is packed to the brim with gracious notes of ripe plum, black raspberry, wild herbs, tangerine zest and lingering notes of fresh Mud Pie, a midwestern dessert classic made with chocolate, butter, cream, and fresh-made pastry crust. With a round mouthfeel, balanced tannins and long finish; the end result is a stately port that is generous, delicious and rewarding.

Suggested pairings: Earthy cheeses with dried fruits; nut-based tarts; Candy Capped Mushrooms; fresh S’mores; or an ample slice of German Chocolate Cake.
Score: 91

Sonoma Portworks 2012 Aris Petite Sirah Port, Clarksburg / $38 (375ml)
Recognized for its dark hue and rich, concentrated flavors of red and black fruits, fresh herbs and spice; Petite Sirah has been planted in California since the 1890s. While it’s true that most of the grapes are used to make full-bodied red wines and complex proprietary blends; there are also a number of impressive Petite Sirah-style ports in the market as well.

One of these recent standouts is the Aris 2012 Petite Sirah Port. Crafted by winemaker Bill Reading and the team at Sonoma Portworks with pristine grapes grown in the historic appellation of Clarksburg near Sacramento. The wine was aged for 5 years in small neutral oak barrels and fortified with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes distilled in a single-batch Armagnac still.

Opulent, intense and engaging, the wine opens up with fragrant aromas of dried rose petals, dark red fruits, fresh dates, tangerine peel, pipe tobacco, leather, cinnamon, vanilla and roasted nuts. On the palate, the robust flavors of dark cherry, cola, huckleberry jam and ripe fig are interlaced with nuances of candied fruits, clove and fresh maple syrup. And unlike other vintage ports that sometimes taste over-ripe, coarse or too hot on the finish; the texture of this wine is soft, smooth and luxurious. The end result is a fortified gem that offers a perfect mixture of power, elegance, and finesse in every sip

Suggested pairings: Blue cheeses like Maytag Blue or Point Reyes Bay Blue; Chocolate Truffles; Flourless Chocolate Cake drizzled with Raspberry Coulis; or simply match with fine cigars, a toasty fire, and great conversations to finish the evening in style.
Score: 93

Sonoma Portworks 2014 Aris Petit Verdot Port, Clarksburg / $34 (375ml)
Although it’s one of the five main grapes used to make the famous red wine blends in the Bordeaux region of France, Petit Verdot has been a mystery to most American consumers. But thanks to the recent series of new domestic plantings in the United States, the popularity of the grape has reached an all-time high over the past decade.

In Northern California, one of the big fans of the grape variety is portmaker Bill Reading of the Petaluma, California-based Sonoma Portworks, who makes his Aris Petit Verdot Port with high-quality, sustainably-framed grapes from the historic wine region of Clarksburg, an hour east of the San Francisco Bay Area.

From the highly-touted 2014 vintage, this new release immediately commands attention with a dark inky hue and tantalizing aromas of dark fruits, wild berries, ripe figs, tobacco and roasted chestnut. On the palate, the texture is rich and smooth, with concentrated flavors of dark cherry, ripe blackberry, cassis, pomegranate, blood orange peel, dark chocolate nibs, savory spices and earthy undertones leading to a lingering finish. Together, this gentle interplay of full-bodied flavors, grippy tannins, structure and a burst of vibrant acidity on the mid-palate, help keep the wine fresh, lively and delicious. Thus, instead of being one-dimensional, too sweet or cloying, it’s a fantastic wine that is distinctive, flavorful, and extremely satisfying from the first sip to the last.

Suggested pairings: Ripe, tangy and creamy cheeses like Gorgonzola and Rogue River Blue; roasted figs wrapped in prosciutto; pan-seared Foie Gras drizzled with black cherry sauce; hickory-smoked almonds; and rich chocolate desserts.
Score: 92

Sonoma Portworks Maduro Reserve Tawny Port, Batch 2, Clarksburg / $48 (375ml)
Unlike the classic styles of “vintage,” “late bottled vintage” and “ruby” ports that are based around capturing the ripe, fruit-forward flavors of the grapes and softening them out with more time in the bottle; tawny ports are matured for an extended amount of time in wooden barrels or casks to slowly build layers of complex flavors, smooth texture, and personality that make them user-friendly and approachable upon release.

In Petaluma, California, specialized portmaker Bill Reading of Sonoma Portworks kept these thoughts in mind when he began developing his family’s signature style of Maduro Reserve Tawny Port, a limited release wine sold under the family label that he and his wife Caryn started two decades ago.

Made exclusively with ultra-premium Petit Sirah grapes. The new release of Batch 2 of the Maduro Reserve is aged in neutral oak barrels for 11 years and topped off with younger vintages annually to add more complex flavors as the wine matures in wood. The wine was fortified with a spirit made with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that were distilled in a copper Armagnac still, and aged in oak for up to 36 months.

With a brilliant amber hue, this new release of the Maduro Reserve opens up with seductive aromas of ripe red and black fruits, fresh marmalade, buttered toffee, wild mushrooms and candied pecans. On the palate, the deep, rich and concentrated flavors of ripe plum, roasted figs and caramel-dipped red apple are further enhanced with lively hints of fresh quince, citrus zest, cinnamon and nutmeg; a silky texture; and a memorable finish that is long, luscious and smooth. Graceful, lengthy and a pleasure to sip, this elegant and sophisticated style of port can give well-known producers from the Old World a run for their money. Lip-smacking good, true tawny craftsmanship at its finest.

Suggested pairings: Hard and salty cheeses like Aged Gouda or Spanish Manchego served with spiced nuts and fresh honey; Crème Brulée; Pear Frangipane; Pecan Pie; Caramelized Onion Tart.
Score: 94

Sonoma Portworks Reserve Late Release Port, Clarksburg / $44 (375ml)
No matter if you are working with high-quality grapes grown on the steep terraces running along the rugged mountains ranges overlooking of the famous Douro Valley of Portugal or a special vineyard site in the New World, crafting a reserve style port requires patience, focus, and attention to detail. The latest case in point is the Reserve Late Release Port by Sonoma Portworks, a magnificent blend of premium Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot grapes from the 2006 and 2009 vintages, and slowly aged in wooden casks before being melded together in the final blend assembled in 2016.

With a lovely dark crimson hue, this complex wine features heady aromas of rich red fruits, fresh dates, ginger snaps, vanilla, sherry, roasted chestnuts, forest floor and cigar box. In the glass, the sweet core notes of ripe plum, cooked cherry, red currant and apple jacks are accented with spicy nuances of sassafras, cardamom, black pepper, mineral and seasoned oak. As the wine opens up, these concentrated flavors are kept in balanced with a harmonious mixture of bright acidity, soft tannins, firm structure, and a lingering finish that is sweet, spicy and persistent. The end result is a sophisticated wine that is classy, complex, and a true sensory experience to share with friends and family throughout the year.
Score:  93

Flashback 2008! Pinot pleasures from Sonoma Coast’s Petaluma Gap

Given the recent news of Petaluma Gap finally being formally recognized as the 18th appellation of Sonoma County,  a little reminiscence seems appropriate.  Please enjoy my article previously published by The Tasting Panel in 2008, with the addition of some relevant and fun photos taken over the years and from the recent celebration.

Introducing: The Petaluma Gap

In the cool-climate regions of California, the delicate grape variety pinot noir continues to capture the hearts of passionate winemakers and producers committed to releasing their own signature styles of classy, elegant and sophisticated red wines on an annual basis. Recently, a blossoming area to lure such attention is a distinctive winegrowing region known as the Petaluma Gap.  Located at the lower end of the Sonoma Coast appellation in southern Sonoma County: A Blossoming area.

Grenache vines at McEvoy Ranch.
Grenache vines at McEvoy Ranch.

Distinguished by its close proximity to the Pacific Ocean, this unique area is influenced by misty fog in the mornings, warm afternoons and chilly maritime winds in the evenings. Together, this mixture of intriguing climatic conditions, diverse soils and unique geographic locations make this area near the historic city of Petaluma an ideal spot to grow delicious thin-skinned grapes.

In 2005 and 2006, the impact of this intriguing natural phenomenon allowed fruit to hang on the vines for an extended period of time. The end result is a magnificent stream of elegant new releases which feature sensational flavors of mixed berries, ripe plums, red currants, dark cherries, fresh ruby grapefruit, pomegranate, zesty spices, and lingering hints of smoke and earth.

As an extra bonus, not only do these beautiful wines coat the palate with complex flavors, balanced tannins and crisp acidity, but they are also quite ageworthy. In short, they are the kind of wines that you want to get your hands on before they are gone!

Keller Estate

One of the pioneers of this delicious new movement is Keller Estate, a state-of-the-art winery nestled in the rolling hills off Lakeville Highway, southeast of downtown Petaluma. Founded by automotive interior designer Arturo and Deborah Keller in the mid 1980s, the premiere blocks of the La Cruz and El Coro vineyards on this estate are now home to 42 acres of pinot noir clones and special varietal selections that are planted on diverse clay and volcanic-based soils.

Celebrating the new appellation on December 7th, 2017: Ana Keller, Doug Cover, Liz Thach and me!

To insure the quality of the fruit, winemaker Michael McNeill closely monitors how each block is maturing leading up to harvest. Once picked, he captures the flavors and personality of these vines by keeping the clones from each block separate until the final batch is blended.

“Realistically, there is no such thing as a magic silver bullet. There are no steroids that enhance the strength and no secret potions to add to the allure of a finished wine,” says McNeill.  Instead, the beauty of a fine pinot noir comes from the generosity of flavors, complexity and true elegance that you get from a mixture of the clones picked before they get overripe.”

“Overall, our goal is to master the art of embracing and magnifying the pure hedonistic flavors in each bottle we produce!”

Cult following

Although they produce 11,000 cases of pinot noir, syrah, chardonnay and pinot gris each year, Keller Estate also sells a portion of its estate fruit to a number of top producers. One of them is Testarossa, a Saratoga, Calif-based winery known for making hand-crafted vineyard designate pinots with fruit from legendary sites in the Central Coast. But according to Rob Jensen, the owner of the winery, getting their hands on high-quality grapes from the breezy Petaluma Gap region is just as exciting.

“Much like the Pisoni and Gary’s vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands or Bien Nacido in Santa Maria, I truly believe that the La Cruz Vineyard and other locations in the cool-climate Petaluma area will be on that same tier very soon,” said Jensen. “It’s definitely a region for winemakers, sommeliers, wine buyers and collectors to get to know as quickly as possible!”

Some choice selections from the celebration!

Another maverick vintner that sees great promise for this unique growing region is Adam Lee, winemaker and proprietor of Siduri Winery, which released two delicious wines from the Sonaterra and Terra de Promissio vineyards in Petaluma last year. Needless to say, the recent releases of both of these hand-crafted wines sold out immediately.

“With low yields and long hang time, working with pinot noir grapes from Petaluma can definitely test the patience of a winemaker,” said Lee. “But there is always enough sun to lift the fruit and support the tannins needed to make rich, powerful and elegant styles of wines that make it well worth the wait.”

Like Testarossa and Siduri, many other well-known wineries such as Cobb Wines, Kosta Browne, Ceja, Cline, Culler, CL Wines, De La Montanya, Flowers, Hart’s Desire, Landmark, Longfellow, Mayo Family, Pax, and Roessler, either own or work closely with growers in the Petaluma Gap district. Special vineyard designate names to look for on wine labels include: Gap’s Crown, Griffin’s Lair, Armagh Vineyard, Devil’s Gulch,  and Rockin’ H Ranch.

Boutique Wineries

In addition to Keller Estate and Adobe Road (a medium-sized winery owned by renowned sports car racer and entrepreneur Kevin Buckler and his wife Debra), there are a growing number of boutique Petaluma-based wineries that specialize in working with pinot noir.

Hanging on the porch with Hoot of Kastania Vineyards!

One of them is the Kastania Vineyard, which is located off Highway 101, south of Petaluma. After planting pinot noir grapes in 1998, Hoot and Linda Smith sold the fruit from the first few vintages to Landmark Winery. But after hiring talented winemaker Leslie Sisneros in 2005, the family introduced its dazzling new releases under the Kastania label last year.

Today, the winery produces 700 to 800 cases and is open for tasting on weekends. “We like to think of our location off Highway 101 as a tasty gateway to all the great Pinot Noirs of the Petaluma Gap region and the rest of Sonoma County!” said Smith.

Another outstanding brand is Ridgeway Family Vineyards from the Two Pisces Vineyard. Owned by Michael and Teela Ridgeway, this 10-acre vineyard features five clones, Pommard, 115, 667, 777 and 828, that are planted on the rounded ridges of southwest-facing hillsides. Crafted by long-time Sonoma County winemaker Dan Goldfield, the latest release from the 2005 vintage is generous, elegant and refined with flavors of fresh tobacco, vanilla, blueberry, ripe plum, and a burst of fresh acidity on the long, engaging finish. “It’s all about the vines,” said Michael Ridgeway, with a smile.

Paul Clary at the appellation celebration.

Other up-and-coming boutique producers from the Petaluma Gap region include: Azari, Bush-Field, Clary Ranch, Corda, Pey-Marin Vineyards, Stubbs, and Sutton Cellars.

In terms of food pairings, these elegant and expressive styles of pinot noir work extremely well with starter course featuring wild mushrooms or young, tangy cheeses, and with entrées featuring fresh Ahi tuna, salmon, pork or lamb. More importantly, whether they are served at a restaurant or in the comforts of your own home, don’t be surprised if these tasty wines stimulate conversation and leave a priceless impression on the palate for many years to come!

For more information about pinot noir and other cool-climate grape varieties grown in the Petaluma area, visit the Petaluma Gap Grape and Wine Alliance at, www.petalumagap.com.

from my seminar at Petaluma Gap's "Wind to Wine" event in 2016.
From my seminar at Petaluma Gap’s “Wind to Wine” event in 2016.

For The Love of Napa concert raises spirits and funds for fire relief!

There are so many incredible people coming together in support of those affected by the recent fires.  For The Love of Napa featured an amazing concert with Michael Franti and Spearhead and Vintage Trouble.  With so many affected, this is a chance for locals to show their resilience as a community and lift their spirits through the healing power of music. One-hundred percent of ticket sales went to victims of the region’s recent wildfires through the Napa Valley Community Foundation.

It all took place at Robert Mondavi Winery, in conjunction with BottleRock Presents, and raised in excess of $90K for fire relief.

THANK YOU to all that contributed time, money, music and wine!

 #NapaStrong #WineCountryStrong
#CAWineStrong #FeastItForward

Get the results! 2017 Harvest Challenge

Well it was all quite a challenge indeed to make this happen in the midst of the October fires.  For that reason with every entry made to the 2017 Harvest Challenge, the net portion of proceeds are being donated to aid in recovery from the recent Northern California Wildfires.  Check out the links below for results! #CAWineStrong

Many thanks and appreciation are also extended to Cline Cellars for hosting the judges to a marvelous feast from A Girl In The Fig by chef John Toulze.  Cheers to all!

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