Swirl Wine Bar & Market

Monday, January 27, 2014

Raptor Ridge Winery, Great Wine with a Conscious

It was a foggy October morning as our two minivans full of Oregon wine  obsessed New Orleanians made their way up into the Dundee Hills to the top of the ridge.  Stomachs full from our French butter, cream and pastry ladden breakfast, all were ready for a some wine to kick off the day's events. 
The Tuscowallame Vineyard, Dundee Hills
Nestled on the northeast side of the Chehalem Mountains, Raptor Ridge Winery awaits with views of the lush, green valley below and their beautiful Tuscowallame vineyard.  Founded in 1995 by Scott Shull, Raptor Ridge Winery gets its name from the many families of raptors—red-tailed hawks, kestrels, sharp-shinned hawks and owls—that share the winery’s 27-acre estate.

Kevin Wiles, our wonderful host
Our host, assistant winemaker Kevin Wiles, meets us in the tasting room with platters of local cheeses and meats and indulges us with a lineup of 6 wines before we take our glasses and a few bottles to the winery below.  Taking us through the facility and cellar below, Kevin is a wonderful guide.  We talk about the process, the people, the raptors and the land that are all involved in making Raptor Ridge Winery what it is - a beautiful place with socially and environmentally conscious people making great wine.

Early stages of fermentation, 2013 harvest

Katie looking at sugar levels through the refractometer.

Besides Kevin and elegance of their wines, there are many things I like about Raptor Ridge.  One is diversity; approximately nine different cuvées are made here, including Pinot gris, Grüner Veltliner, Rosé, Tempranillo, several distinct vineyard designates, and consistent blends of Willamette Valley Pinot noir and Reserve Pinot noir.  Another is quality; they produce a total of 7,500 cases per vintage at the winery and the winemaking team regularly tastes through and segregates every barrel into these select cuvées. Uncompromised quality is the focus, not quantity.  Another is their respect for the land and its human as well as nonhuman occupants - they serve as a release site for birds following rehabilitative treatment by local raptor rescue foundations plus a portion of the proceeds from every bottle the sell supports iSalud!, a non-profit healthcare program for vineyard workers and their families.

Join winemaker Kevin Wiles on Thursday for a tasting of 6 wines from Raptor Ridge, including a few from the exciting 2012 vintage, accompanied by a selection of Oregon cheeses and meats presented by Casey Foote of St. James Cheese.  The lineup of wines is listed below and you can click here to reserve your seat. Raptor Ridge Tasting

2013 Raptor Ridge Rose                                
2013 Raptor Ridge Pinot Gris                          
2012 Raptor Ridge Grüner Veltliner 
2012 Raptor Ridge Willamette Valley Pinot Noir                  
2011 Raptor Ridge Estate Pinot Noir                    
2012 Raptor Ridge Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir     

Monday, January 13, 2014

What We're Drinking, Staff Favs for 2014!

One of the downfalls of being in this business is that I get bored quickly.  With a constant parade of wine reps at the bar on a daily basis, sampling and selling their liquid wares, I'm always on the hunt for something that excites my palate.  There is so much amazing wine out there I have a hard time sticking with the same selections month after month.  The pros or cons of this, depending on how you view it, means that our inventory is rotating constantly. 

But what I also have to remember is that every one's tastes and passions are different and it is that diversity that makes all of this so interesting.  So in putting together our new wine menu I asked the staff what they are particularly excited about drinking right now and their enthusiastic response has resulted in one of our best menus yet! Here are some of their comments and be sure to come in for a drink at the bar as we have over 25 wines by the glass and more than 300 options by the bottle for you to choose from.

Casey Foote - My Brother caught a ton of fish from the Gulf before Christmas, froze them and gave me a bunch so oddly have been drinking a lot of whites this winter.  Loire Valley whites and Assyrtiko from around Greece goes great with those lovely fishes!  On the list:  2011 Montintin Sancerre and the 2012 Sigalas Aa, Assyrtiko/Athiri Blend

Kimi Kiviranna - I've been really into Loire Cab Francs lately and had one at August that I fell in love with! And even though it's not technically rose' season, I like seeing something interesting on the list for our year round fans.  On the list:  2010 Château du Hureau Tuffe Saumur Champigny and the D'Oupia Minervois Rose'

Matt Snyder - We were cooking gumbo the other night and I needed a bottle to pair with it.  I took home a Cotes du Rhone that was gorgeous with or without the food and highly recommend it!  I'm also really happy to see some of our Greek wine favorites back on the shelf and that Xinamavro is always a hit.  On the list:  2010 Terres d'Avignon Armoiries Cotes du Rhone and the 2012 Thymiopoulus Young Vine Xinomavro.

Adam Tustin - I took home a bottle of Montepulciano D'Abruzzo last night and think it would be a great, inexpensive by the glass pick!  On the list:  Farnese Fantini Montepulciano D'Abruzzo.

Erin Rhoads -  We've got so many great wines in our "cheap & tasty" section that would make delicious glass pours at good price points. Plus the Regaleali white from Sicily is always lovely and a nice introduction to Sicilian whites.   On the list:  2012 Amalaya White; 2012 Juan Gil Honoro Vera Monastrell plus the 2012 Tasca D'Almerita Regaleali Bianco
And me?  Even in the winter I find myself reaching for refreshing delicious whites most of the time unless I'm having a meal that demands a red.  If I'm eating a meat based dish or having some of those great Olli Salumi, I always reach first for an Italian red!  On the list: The 2012 Albert Mann Pinot Blanc and the 2012 Zabu Grillo and the 2010 Corsini Birillo from the Maremma in Tuscany

Monday, January 6, 2014

Sake & Small Plates Pairing Event

Join local culinary talent Chef Dan Esses, Sake Specialist Kimi Kiviranna and Winebow Import's Chris Noyse for this exciting sake and food pairing evening.  Learn about how sake is made, the different levels of quality and get a new perspective on saké and food pairing with this presentation of premium sake.  The quality, complexity and individuality of these wines inspired Chef Dan to come up with an amazing menu of non traditional pairings.  Click here for reservations:  Sake and Small Plates

Sake and Small Plates
Where:  Three Muses
When: January 28, 7pm
Cost:  $70 includes tax and tip

Tempura shrimp with blood orange ponzu sauce 
Ichishima Silk Deluxe Junmai

Hamachi tuna Meyer lemon granite and rice cracker 
Hideyoshi Namacho Honjozo

Swordfish escabeche 
Manabito Ginjo

Braised pork belly, mustard greens , scallion pancake
Dewatsuru Kimoto Junmai 

Black pepper crusted New York strip, rutabaga, turnip, blue d'auvergne gratain
Chokaisan Junmai Daiginjo

"What's Your Favorite Wine?"

Picking grapes in Yamhill Carlton
...is a question you get asked a lot in this business.  My standard answer is that there is no one answer!  It's all about what is happening during a particular moment  in time - what I'm eating or doing, who I'm with and where I am. When Kerry and I grilled steaks at home a few weeks ago my answer would probably have been that 2005 Bongiovanni Barolo Pernanno.  Hanging out in Portland and salivating over plank roasted salmon?  My answer would be the 2010 Alloro Riservata Pinot Noir from Oregon.  Sitting at a seaside restaurant with friends on the Amalfi Coast?  The inexpensive house Falanghina served in a ceramic carafe tastes like the best wine on earth!

But what is an easy thing for me to talk about is my favorite red varieties, all of which will be featured in one event or another this month at the shop.  Because while I credit Sangiovese as the grape that got me into the wine business, it's my love of these 3 reds that keeps me here.

Volcanic Soils of the Etna
Nerello Mascalese
The first time I tasted a wine from the Etna, I knew that something very special was happening in the eastern part of Sicily.  We were in New York in late January 2009 for an Italian Trade Commission wine event and we needed a bottle of wine for our friend Lisa's birthday party. I had become intrigued by the region while researching the wine producing areas of the island for our first wine and culinary tour later that year with Cynthia Nicholson and The Farmhouse Table.  But there was nothing from the Etna in any of our wholesaler's portfolios because, like me, most had never really heard much about the region until I started inquiring about the wines.  

So, needing a bottle of wine to take with us to a little party, we popped into a shop in the East Village, that actually had a decent selection of Sicilian wines and there on the shelf was a wine by one of the producers I had been researching, Terre Nere.  The 2006 Etna Rosso was under $20, which was very reasonable for anything coming from the area, so I was really excited to try it.  And needless to say we were all impressed as it was lush (a prominent quality in the 2006 vintage) and easy drinking, with a purity of fruit and hints of dark cherries, tobacco and wild herbs, it had an earthiness and texture reminiscent of Burgundy but is distinctly Sicilian. Made with Nerello Mascalese, a native grape to the region, I was now completely obsessed  and have been ever since.  

Holmes Hill in Eola-Amity
Pinot Noir
Oregon Pinot Noir had been slowly, subtly, seeping its way into my wine consciousness since I met James Moises in the summer of 2009.  Wrongfully lumping it into my not so favorite category of new world wines, it has always been lurking just a bit under the radar for me.  And even though our wine reps have been bringing me Oregon Pinots for years, it was my personal relationship with James that made me want to learn more about this place that was drawing him away from his lifelong medial career and home town of New Orleans to make wine.  

So when James asked us to visit him in Oregon we got to experience first hand the really special things that are happening in the Willamette Valley. While there are a handful of big money, fancy wineries in the area, the majority of the producers are small and passionately making artisan wine from tiny, individual plots of land that they are farming themselves or from carefully selected purchased fruit. Fantastic wines without pretense where quality over quantity is the rule, sustainability is a lifestyle and where visitors always feel welcome and the winemaker is never far away… I have to admit, I thought I would get bored with drinking Pinot for 5 days straight, but I didn't, not in the least.  The wines are the the perfect blending of the old and new world; subtle, elegant, higher acidity levels but still with beautiful, intoxicating fruit.  The different vineyard sites and vintages offered such unique expressions of the grape that I just couldn't, and still can't, get enough.  

It seems that anyone in this business who loves old world wines, tastes and drinks wines from all over the planet, eventually end up in either the Burgundy or Piemonte camp or both.  For me and my love of Italian wine it is Piemonte and the Nebbiolo grape that currently have my full attention. How can you not get completely intoxicated just on the perfumey aromatics alone of a good Barolo or Barbaresco? With their hedonistic mix of sweet and savory flavors of leather, spice, tar, rose petals and dried red fruit on the nose combined with an array of flavors that explodes across the palate - they are the stuff that wine enthusiasts' dreams are made of!

But the difficult thing with these wines is having the patience to wait until they are ready to drink.  Even the production standards alone for Barbaresco and Barolo require it; 2-3 years between oak and bottle for the DOCG and the riserva wines require up to 4-5 years of total aging respectively.  Young nebbiolo from these regions can be fiercely tannic, which then allows you to explore Piemonte's other regions like Gattinara, Ghemme, Roero and Langhe for younger wines that are softer and more accessible. 

So in following suit with my first two favorites, I now find my self planning a trip to Piemonte this spring.  And through researching this trip, I have again reached that turning point where interest becomes obsession.  I tend to immerse myself fully in that place; learning the history, cooking the food and of course drinking the wine as I patiently wait for April to arrive.  Because when you visit the region itself, there is nothing quite like the connection to its people, its land and its culture that solidifies that place in your heart, mind and palate.  So I'm quite sure you'll be hearing a lot about Piemonte in the coming months...

But in the meantime I've scheduled some events to help curb my appetite a little; a seated Nebbiolo and cheese pairing with Italian Wine Specialist Antonio Molesini & St. James Cheese; a seated wine and cheese session with winemaker Kevin Wiles of Raptor Ridge in Oregon and St. James Cheese; and fun Wednesday Nite Flite this week featuring the wines of Sicily!  

If you are interested in attending any of these click on the links below for more information!

-Wednesday Nite Flites - Sicilia!  January 8, 6-8pm.  $15, reservations are not required but you are sure to get a spot if you do!
-Nebbiolo, The Noble Grape of Piemonte, January 23rd, 6-8pm.  $33, reservations are required.  Limited seating
-Raptor Ridge Wines with Kevin Wiles, January 30th 6-8pm, $28 reservations are required.  Limited seating


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