2014 Underwood Pinot Noir – Oregon Value

If I was to ask you to name a Pinot Noir producing region, what comes to mind first? For most Pinot Noir fans, the most likely answer is Burgundy. And why not, its wines are considered to be among the world’s best, which however also puts them as some of the world’s most expensive wine.

Finding an inexpensive but good quality Pinot Noir from Burgundy can be quite the challenge. However, luckily for fans of the heartbreak grape, there are a number of other regions producing good quality inexpensive Pinot Noirs.

One of those regions just happens to be the Willamette Valley in Oregon and like Burgundy, the valley is almost exclusively known for its Pinot Noir production. According to the 2015 Oregon Vineyard and Winey Census report, the valley accounts for 82% of the Pinot Noir production within Oregon, with 14,417 acres planted. The next closest grape in terms of planting was Pinot Gris at 2,463 acres.

However, there are noticeable differences between the two regions, most notably is the fact that Pinot Noirs from the Willamette valley tend to be somewhat more fruit forward than their Burgundy counterparts. This is most likely due to the different soil conditions between the two regions and the differences in climate.

Now when I mentioned other regions making inexpensive Pinot Noirs, I didn’t mean to indicate that wines coming out the Willamette Valley are necessarily cheap, because they are not. A good quality Oregon Pinot Noir is most likely going to run you $35 – $50, which may seem steep to a lot of folks. However, when compared to a Grand Cru Burgundy, which can start at $50 you can see where an Oregon Pinot Noir might be considered quite the value.

Given what I know about Oregon Pinot Noir, I tend to be skeptical when I see them for less than $25/bottle. So when I first tasted the 2014 Underwood Pinot Noir, I was quite impressed by the character shown in this wine, especially at a $20 price point.

Underwood 2014 Pinot Noir
Oregon – 2014 Underwood Pinot Noir

Right off the bat, I picked some intense notes of cherry and raspberry on the nose, along with a slight floral  note in the background. In comparison to other Pinot Noirs, I found the aromas for this wine to be quite a bit more pronounced and up front. In the glass, the wine showed a clear, pale, ruby color.

Underwood 2014 Pinot Noir in a glass

I found this to have a slightly more structured body than a lot of other Pinot Noirs, there seemed to be a slightly more tannic presence along with a finish that just seemed to linger longer than usual. There was also delightful acidity to the wine that helped to give it that slight boost in the body.

On the palate flavors of black cherry and cranberry coupled with vegetable notes. Interesting note on the flavor of the wine, while writing up my tasting notes, I happened to read the back of the wine label that highlighted “cola” as one of the predominate notes of this wine. As soon as I read cola, that was all I could taste and think of.

Back of the label
2014 Notes: Cherry, Blackberry, Cola

I was very pleasantly surprised by this wine, it showed much more complexity than I was expecting especially at its $20 price point. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised after reading up on the history of the winery. According to the wineries website, the winemaker Ryan Harms, set out to make a Pinot Noir that was accessible but not expensive.

A good indication of this desire is shown in the wineries newest offering, their Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Rose, and sparkling wine in a can. I’ve yet to try the Pinot Noir in a can but the word from friends and associates is that it’s pretty good and shows very similar to the Pinot in the bottle.

At the end of the day I can confidently say that if your hunting for a good quality value Pinot Noir, I don’t think you can go wrong with the Underwood Pinot Noir.

Cheers,

LB

Traversing the Okanagan Valley: The Beginning

In 2011 my wife and I decided to take a trip out to Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, specifically the city of Kelowna. As part of that trip, we went on a wine tour. It was the first time I had ever been to a winery and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Right away I was hooked, I was immediately interested in the whole process. From growing the grapes to harvesting them to turning them into wine.

We came back out to Kelowna again in 2012 and 2013, both time with the intent on visiting as many wineries as we could. We took a break from the area in 2014 & 2015 but decided to return to the Okanagan again this July.

Instead of visiting Kelowna this time, we decided to head a little further south to Penticton and Oliver. We had a great trip, visited a number of amazing wineries, drank some fantastic wine, and conversed with a lot of passionate and knowledgeable individuals.

wineroute
Which way to the wine?

The Okanagan Valley

The valley itself is one of 5 provincially recognized wine producing regions in British Columbia, with the others being: The Similkameen Valley, Vancouver Island, The Gulf Islands, and Fraser Valley. There are several other emerging regions that are starting to develop a name for themselves, but these are the five predominant regions at this time.

It begins around Kelowna and stretches for over 250 km south towards Osoyoos and the US border. The valley accounts for almost 80% of the total wine production within BC and includes over 170 wineries with over 8,000 total acres of vines.

The valley is divided into a number of local regions and as you travel south through the valley you’ll run into these regions along the way. It’s these small regions within the Okanagan Valley that make it such an interesting wine and winery destination.

The sub-regions are:

  • Lake Country/Kelowna
  • Peachland/Summerland
  • Penticton/Naramata
  • Okanagan Falls
  • Golden Mile Bench
  • Osoyoos

Each region is blessed with its own unique micro-climates and soil conditions. Some areas benefit from cool breezes that blow in from nearby lakes, which help to offset the summer heat. Others receive the benefit of excellent irritation, the result of vineyards planted on hillsides.

soil
Soil type examples at Le Vieux Pin winery.

The different benefits that come from the different climates and growing conditions have reflected the diversity of the different wines being produced within these regions. I’ll use Pinot Noir for an example, you’ll find examples of Pinot Noir being produced from each of these regions. But, what you’ll also find is that the Pinot Noir is different from each region. Not different in a bad way, but simply different based on the growing conditions.

You may find a Pinot Noir produced in the Summerland region to be light bodied with quite fruit forward. While in Oliver you may find the Pinot Noir to have a heavier body with spicier notes and less fruit forward. Then if you were to try a Pinot Noir from Naramata you might find it is somewhere in the middle.

 

Our Trip

The Okanagan valley has a tremendous amount to offer. There’re several lakes for boating, swimming, and water sports. Beaches for family outings or to sit and relax on. Fruit farms and orchards dot the highway throughout. It offers great hiking and biking trails, as well as numerous campgrounds. The valley also boasts a number of music festivals throughout the summer.

For me however, it was all about the wine. This was my chance to visit some of the wineries I had been hearing about for some time now.

Yet, I’ve only just broken the surface of what the valley has to offer in terms of wine and wineries. Of the over 170 wineries in operation, I’ve only visited roughly 20% of them. I’ve still got some work to do.

Since we spent a lot of time in the past in and around Kelowna, we only focused on the Penticton/Naramata Bench, Okanagan Falls, and the Black Sage Bench/Osoyoos areas.

In total, we spend about 3 & 1/2 days exploring these three areas and it wasn’t even close to being enough. It was extremely difficult deciding on which wineries to visit and where to go. I relied heavily on recommendations from folks on Twitter and from articles I found on online.

Over the next couple of posts, I’ll go into more detail about the regions we visited and what they have to offer.

Cheers,

LB

 

 

 

 

Review: Summerhill Pyramid Winery 2008 Zweigelt

Sitting around the kitchen table one night after dinner, my wife and I got to talking about entertaining and we realized it had been quite awhile since we’d had a get together at our place. We only half seriously started to think about what kind of event we could have.

At the same time my wife was looking at the calendar when she mentioned that Canada day was going to fall on a Friday this year. We thought that was perfect, what better way to celebrate Canada day and kick of the weekend then with a BBQ. Plans were quickly made and a little while later the invite went out.

The morning of the BBQ, I was getting things ready and I started to think about what to drink. We had gotten some beer, but what really was on my mind was wine. I had an idea, I wanted to do an all Canadian lineup in honor of Canada day. I pulled 2 whites, a Gewürztraminer from Red Rooster winery and a Pinot Gris from Dirty Laundry winery. For our red selection I choose a Cabernet Franc from Vineland Estates, a Solstice Pinot Noir from Arrowleaf Winery, and lastly a Zweigelt from Summerhill Pyramid winery.

Summer Lineup

Soon the BBQ was in full swing and it became very clear that I had made some very good selections in the wines I had chosen. The Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir were opened first as part of the appetizer portion of the evening and they were both very well received. The Solstice Pinot Noir from Arrowleaf showed incredibly well. Next up to go along with the main course was the Gewürztraminer and the Cab Franc. Again both very well received, with the Cab Franc from Vineland getting a number of compliments from Guests.

As the BBQ started to wind down we opened the Zweigelt from Summerhill Pyramid winery and that became sort of our late evening sit back, relax, and enjoy the evening wine. I’ll be honest I was a little nervous this was a 2008 vintage, and I had purchased it on a trip to the winery in 2012, so this was a wine that I had been cellaring for several years. As soon as we opened it though any fears I had quickly evaporated, the wine was in great shape and showing very well.

A little bit about Summerhill Pyramid Winery

The story of the winery is quite impressive in its own right. Stephen Cipes, the proprietor of the winery first came to the Okanagan Valley in 1986. His first reaction was that it would be a perfect spot to produce  sparkling wine. Since that day the Cipes family had built Summerhill Pyramid winery into a fully biodynamic winery, even receiving Demeter Biodynamic certification in 2012.

We visited Summerhill Pyramid winery in 2012 as part of road trip vacation, my wife and I had embarked on that year. There was two reasons why we choose to stop at Summerhill, one was their reputation for quality wine and organic farming, and two was their use of a pyramid for cellaring their wines. I had read several articles about their pyramid and wanted to check it out for myself. Unfortunately, we missed the pyramid tour on the day we went but were still very impressed with the winery and their wines.

On the day we visited there was several of their wines that stood out. Their Cipes Rose certainly spoke to their dedication to sparkling wines, and the Zweigelt was unlike anything I had tasted up to that point.

So I thought our Canada day BBQ was the perfect time to open up that 2008 Zweigelt that I had been hanging on to.

Summerhill Pyramid 2008 Zweigelt

Bottle

As I mentioned earlier the wine still showed very well, the body was well structured with a slightly cream texture. Very easy drinking style with medium low tannins, low alcohol level, and a refreshing acidity level.

The wine’s color was still quite vibrant, a rich burgundy, but the rim appeared to be quite a bit lighter. Which led me to wonder if the color was starting to lighten up given the age of the wine.

Glass

On the nose strong floral notes, such as lavender and violet. Also showing on the nose was a slight hint of cedar and tobacco. A real intense ripe red fruit comes through in the flavor of the wine. Some hints of raspberry and red plum.

Summerhill produces wine on their own terms based on their own philosophy. They believe in an organic and biodynamic philosophy. They put the same care into the production of their wine that they do into the land itself. That care shows in the quality of their wine and the 2008 Zweigelt is an example of that. It’s one I will definitely keep an eye out for in the future.

Cheers,

LB.

 

Chicken & Spinach Pizza

There’s just something about Pizza! It’s easy, you can make it as simple or as complex as you want. It can be the starter before a main dish or it can be the main dish itself. You can eat it with a knife and fork or with your hands.

It can be crafted to fit almost any diet out there from Vegetarian to Gluten Free, Vegan to Paleo. You can have it with almost any topping you can think of, or care to eat. The only limitation is your imagination.

Pizza is one of our go-to meals in our house. It’s easy to make and can use just about any leftover ingredient you have in the fridge. Bought to many vegetables at the Farmer’s market, no problem. A little tomato sauce, a little mozzarella cheese and some fresh herbs and presto, a vegetarian pizza. Don’t like raw vegetables on your pizza, pop them in the oven with a little olive oil and salt & pepper for 20 mins to soften them up and now you have a roasted vegetable pizza. Leftover meat in the fridge, just add some BBQ sauce, some sliced red onion, a little pineapple, and you got yourself the perfect meal.

Case in point, the other night we had a bunch of leftover BBQ chicken and spinach to use up and weren’t sure what to do with it. That’s when inspiration struck.

A little spinach, some sliced red onion, BBQ sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese and the making of a pizza had come together.

ingredients

Fired up the BBQ and then diced the leftover chicken.

Diced Chicken

Spread a little of the BBQ sauce on our favourite pizza crust.

BBQ sauce

Added the chicken.

Chicken

Sprinkled on the mozzarella cheese.

Mozzeralla Cheese

Layered on the spinach and the red onion.

Spinach and Red Onion

Add a little Feta cheese for kicks. Throw it on the BBQ for  4-6 minutes and voila, BBQ’d chicken & spinach pizza.

Finished Pizza
BBQ’d Chicken & Spinach Pizza.

  • 1 -2 chicken breast
  • 1 cup of shredded mozzarella
  • 1 1/2 cup of uncooked spinach
  • 1/2 cup of sliced red onion
  • 3 -4 Tbsp of BBQ sauce
  • 1/4 cup of crumbled feta cheese
  1. Pre-heat your BBQ / Oven. If using your oven preheat to 425°C. If you have a pizza stone place it in the BBQ/Oven while it’s preheating.
  2. Cut chicken breast in bite size pieces. IMPORTANT: If using raw chicken you will need to cook it first before putting on the pizza. I suggest sautéing it in olive oil with S&P until no longer pink inside.
  3. Spread the BBQ sauce over the pizza crust.
  4. Add the cooked chicken on top.
  5. Sprinkle the shredded mozzarella cheese over top.
  6. Add the spinach and then red  onion.
  7. Sprinkle the crumbled feta cheese all around.
  8. If cooking on the BBQ, place pizza on the pizza stone and close the lid. Check every minute or so to make sure the crust isn’t starting to burn. If so use tongs and turn the crust around. Cook for 6-8 minutes depending on crispy you like the crust. If cooking in the over place the pizza on the pizza stone and cook for 10-12 min. Turn over to broil and broil for 3-4 min to brown the feta cheese on top.
  9. Cut into pieces and enjoy.

The beauty of this recipe is that it’s incredibly versatile. Feel free to add additional vegetables you may like or a little crumbled bacon as well. In the past I’ve made a Hawaiian/Greek version by adding ham, pineapple, black olives and diced tomato.

Cheers,

LB

Review: Fox Run 2012 Lemberger

One of the blogs that I routinely look forward to reading is pop & pour, written by local wine aficionado Peter Vetsch.  I first came across Peter on Twitter and was quick to check out his blog,  becoming an instant follower.

When it comes to the world of wine I still consider myself quite an amateur, so it’s great when I can look to others as valuable sources of information. In Peters’ case I appreciate the fact I get exposure to wines I might not otherwise get.

Case in point Peter recently wrote a number of posts regarding wines and vineyards in the Finger Lakes area of New York. I had heard of the Finger Lakes area earlier this year on a podcast, but really had no idea what the region had to offer.

So one night last week I just happened to be killing some time before an appointment and wandered in to the Kensington Wine Market to have a look around. As I’m walking down one the aisles, a label catches my eye. A black label, with the works “Fox Run” printed on them. Something about the name stuck in my head and then it came to me. That was one of the vineyards and wines that Peter had just written about. It was decided, I had to try the wine.

Fox Run Vineyards 2012 Lemberger

Fox Run 2012 Lemberger

I really had no idea what to expect with this wine. As I mentioned earlier I was not familiar with the area or this grape variety so I decided to do some research. The grape variety is very common through central Europe, in countries such as Austria, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Slovakia. The common name for this grape is Blaufränkisch, but is known by other names depending on the country. In the US, the grape is referred to as Lemberger, and is primarily grown in Idaho, Washington, and the Finger Lakes.

Fox Run Vineyards, got its start as a dairy farm, but began planting grapes in 1984.  In 1990 the farm was converted into a winemaking facility with further renovations being done in 1996. The winery is a family run vineyard and prides itself on its philosophy of low impact agriculture.

In addition to Lemberger, it also produces Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir.

I was nervous opening the bottle, I just wasn’t sure what to expect. Interestingly enough as soon as I opened it the first thing that struck me was a strong note sweet almost overripe fruit. I was actually a little concerned that perhaps there was something wrong with the wine. However, I decanted it and let it sit for a couple of hours.

When I went back to the wine that aroma of overripe fruit had really dissipated and in its place was the spicy note of black pepper. Once poured into a glass, I was able to also note the aroma of blackberry and what I thought was blackcurrant.

In the glass the wine showed a striking ruby colour with a slightly less vivid rim. On the tongue I was struck by the contrast the wine presented. The body was densely complex  yet very soft and mellow all at the same time, with a wonderful full body.

FoxRun_Lemberger_02

The black pepper aroma carried over into the flavour of the wine, giving it a delicious hint of spice. I noted just a slight hint of fruit on the tongue, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. There was also a real herbal note to the wine, almost like basil or tarragon that really provided a wonderful savoury finish.

At the end of the day I was very impressed with this wine, deep and complex but easy to drink. It paired amazingly well with a rib eye but continued to drink well even after dinner was finished. Based on this experience I can’t wait to try some of the vineyards’ other varieties. Well worth the money spent.

Cheers,

LB

Notes: 

  • Winery: Fox Run Vineyards
  • Vintage: 2012
  • Grape: Lemberger
  • Region: Finger Lakes, NY
  • Country: United States
  • Nose: Black pepper, blackberry, black currant
  • Taste: Black pepper, herbal (basil, tarragon), berries
  • Purchased: Kensington Wine Market
  • Price: $29.99