When 17 regional wineries gathered under a single canvas tent last weekend and poured more than 50 different wines, they offered a little taste of paradise to lovers of the noble rot.
The occasion was the Cork & Barrel festival, a three-day wine-and-dine event at the Broken Top Club that annually raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for the KIDS Center, a child-abuse intervention agency.
Represented were five Willamette Valley wineries (Adelsheim, Angela Estate, Archery Summit, L’Angolo Estate and Willamette Valley Vineyards); four from the Columbia Gorge (AniChe Cellars, Maryhill, Memaloose/Idiot’s Grace and Phelps Creek); and eight from Walla Walla, Washington (Caprio Cellars, Doubleback, Double Canyon, Dumas Station, Gramercy Cellars, Seven Hills, Va Piano and Woodward Canyon).
One of the most pleasant surprises was the 2014 Idiot’s Grace chenin blanc, which retails for $28. Chenin blanc is a versatile grape that can make a sweet or sparkling wine. Father-and-son winemakers Rob and Brian McCormick, owners of the Memaloose winery, have succeeded in producing a drier chenin blanc, more suggestive of chardonnay than chablis.
Memaloose has its production facilities and tasting room in Lyle, on the Washington side of the Gorge, but Brian McCormick’s Idiot’s Grace Vineyard is in Oregon. It occupies a converted cherry orchard on a hillside above Mosier, between Hood River and The Dalles.
Pale straw in color, with a hint of oak, this is a fruit-forward wine in the style of Loire Valley vignerons. Flavors of pear, quince and chamomile show through.
Walla Walla’s Va Piano Vineyards are better known for big reds, but the 2016 Chelle den Millie sauvignon blanc ($35) is a revelation. Made in the New Zealand style, showing more citrus (kiwi and lemon) than grassiness, it is unique in two important ways: Its grapes are fully sourced from a small vineyard that sits above 1,000 feet elevation in the Columbia Valley’s Rattlesnake Hills. And it was fermented, in part, in a new “concrete egg” tank that breathes more efficiently than stainless steel and produces a fresh, aromatic wine.
This is a crisp, dry wine with notes of pear and honeydew melon and mineral overtones. Owner-winemaker Justin Wylie has it available at Va Piano’s Bend tasting room in the Old Mill District.
Only a few wineries were pouring rosé at Cork & Barrel, but of those that did, the 2015 Olsen Vineyard Rosé from Walla Walla’s Gramercy Cellars ($35) stood out. Owner-winemaker Greg Harrington, better known for his rich syrah wines, has developed a unique blend of 54 percent Cinsault (a southern Rhone grape, deep red in color), 24 percent grenache and 22 percent syrah.
“Rose needs to be conceived from a specific intent to make rose,” Harrington wrote in 2013, and it remains true today. “It should only be made from red grapes with proper maceration techniques. Good rose is made in stainless-steel tanks at cold temperatures and is bright orange or very light pink. Leave the bright pink neon in Las Vegas where it belongs.”
This salmon-colored wine, sourced from a vineyard that lies between Prosser and Benton City at the eastern end of the Yakima Valley, has a richness that suggests more substance than most rosés. It opens with flavors of melon, strawberry and tropical guava but finishes with a rush of mineral acidity.
Also from the Walla Walla area are Dumas Station Wines. The tasting room of this boutique winery occupies a historic railroad depot between the small towns of Waitsburg and Dayton. The Birch Creek and Minnick Hills estate vineyards have been planted in end-of-the-19th-century apple orchards, and it is from these that the 2013 Walla Walla Valley cabernet sauvignon ($38) was sourced.
Winemaker Jay DeWitt, a former wheat farmer, and partner Doug Harvey, a retired attorney, have lured flavors of black current, dried cranberries and raspberries from this succulent wine, along with plum, vanilla and a spicy dash of black pepper. Aged in 30 percent new oak, it has a solid tannin structure and lovely balance.
My favorite pinot noir came from the Angela Estate in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The 2013 Abbott Claim pinot noir ($60) is produced from Pommard and two other clones planted on a 16-acre sedimentary ridge east of Carlton.
This estate is a newcomer on the Oregon scene, but it has a long pedigree. Owners Antony and Angela Beck own a thoroughbred horse farm in Kentucky, where they continue to live, and a family winery in South Africa. Seeking land to produce their own pinot noir, they purchased this property from renowned Oregon winemaker Ken Wright, who continues to manage the vineyards and produce the wine.
The 2013 Abbott Claim pinot earned a 92-point rating from Wine Enthusiast. Rich and complex, it features black cherry and cassis up front, then opens into flavors that suggest orange rind and pekoe tea. Coffee and dark chocolate emerge at the finish.
— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached at email@example.com.