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By Chuck Hill

Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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Red Rhone Varietals
and Blends

A 4-Part Series
Published July & Aug 2014

Pinot Noir & Copper
River Salmon

A 4-Part Series

White Rhone Varietals
A 3-Part Series

Versatile Chardonnays
A 3-Part Series

Italian Varietals in America
A 3-Part Series

Cabernet Sauvignon
and Blends

A 3-Part Series

Merlot and Malbec
A 3-Part Series


Index to Archived
Wines of the Week
...Earlier Columns


Chuck's Wine Reviews
of other Northwest Wines

Organized by varietal


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Last Week's Reviews
Published October 4, 2014

Oyster Wines as the Sky Turns Gray
Part 4 of a 4-Part Series  (See Part 1)  (See Part 2)  (Part 3)
By Chuck Hill

Last night in the Pacific Northwest, it rained like the dickens.  The skies are now the color of oyster shells and the very oysters themselves.  As the weather and water cool down, Northwest oysters firm up and deliver the best flavor of any oysters found around the world.  As a parting salute to oysters and the wines that love them, here is another selection of superb oyster and mussel wines for your consideration. 


Three Rivers
2013 Steel Chardonnay
Columbia Valley AVA

This wine was fermented and aged in stainless steel to preserve the crisp minerality and the clean varietal fruit characteristics.  Grapes came from three respected Washington vineyards: Bacchus, Sagemoor and Weinbau.  This could be the hallmark Chardonnay oyster wine showing aromas and flavors of green apple, spicy pear and citrus with hints of vanilla and wet stone on the finish. 

Left Coast Cellars
2013 Chardonnay, Unoaked
Willamette Valley AVA

Here is another stainless steel-fermented Chardonnay, crafted to show the bright fruit of the Chardonnay varietal with a supple palate and light structure.  Left Coast Cellars is a nice visit for wine lovers visiting the Eola Hills/Salem area with attractive gardens and other amenities.  Look for aromas and flavors of apple and pear with notes of baking spices and earthy mineral. 

Alexandria Nicole Cellars
2013 Chardonnay, Estate
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

Winemakers Jarrod Boyle and Matt Dodson craft this Chardonnay from grapes grown at the winery’s Destiny Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA.  The wine underwent partial malolactic fermentation and was aged sur lie in French oak, 25% new.  Aromas of Asian pear, white peach and floral-apple mingle with baking spice and creamy yeast notes.  The palate is rich with stone fruit and apple flavors wrapped in vanilla and light toast with a stab of lemon zest on the finish. 

2012 Chardonnay, Stillwater Creek Vineyard
Columbia Valley AVA

Winemaker Aryn Morell crafted his Tenor Chardonnay from grapes grown on the fractured basalt soil of Stillwater Creek Vineyard on the Royal Slope in Washington’s Columbia Valley AVA.  Lots of new French oak was used in aging, but the wine shows distinctive lemon curd, spice and mineral up front with barrel components of buttery brioche and toasty cedar framing the palate instead of
overwhelming it. 

Seven of Hearts
2012 Chardonnay
Willamette Valley AVA

Byron Dooley sourced Chardonnay from Oregon’s Gran Moraine and Willakia Vineyards for his 2012 vintage, and this wine is a blend of Dijon clones from those sites in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA and Eola-Amity Hills AVA respectively. Fermentation was 50/50 in neutral French oak and stainless steel, yielding a complex wine with lemon curd and green apple aromas and flavors and a crisp citrus finish that pairs very well with oysters and mussels. 

Bridgeview Vineyard
2012 Chardonnay
Southern Oregon AVA

Bob and Lelo Kerivan opened Bridgeview Winery in 1986 in Oregon’s Illinois Valley [the westernmost area of the Rogue Valley AVA], and they now craft over 100,000 cases annually of popularly priced varietal wines.  This soft and approachable Chardonnay is a perfect sipper and also goes very well with lighter dishes and seafoods.  Look for aromas and flavors of pear and apple with hints of spice and lemon.  

Amelia Wynn
2012 Chardonnay
Yakima Valley AVA

Winemaker/owner Paul Bianchi has been crafting wines at his Bainbridge Island winery since 1998.  Named in celebration of Paul’s twin fraternal grandchildren, the winery crafts wines from a wide variety of Bordeaux, Rhone and Northern Italian grape varietals.  His 2012 Chardonnay from the Airfield Estates Vineyard was fermented partially in stainless and partially in French oak.  Hints of oak and vanilla wrap around flavors of melon, stone fruits and soft, spicy lemon. 

Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc 

Canoe Ridge Vineyard Expedition
2013 Pinot Gris
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

The Canoe Ridge Vineyard was planted in the Horse Heaven Hills in 1989 with the winery being established in Walla Walla in 1994.  The winery specializes in Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.  This tasty Pinot Gris lies outside of those boundaries, but expands the winery’s appeal to oyster-loving foodies who revel in the wine's aromas and flavors of green apple and pear with notes of floral perfume, crisp grapefruit and apricot. 

Adelsheim Vineyard
2013 Pinot Blanc
Chehalem Mountains AVA

David Adelsheim led a program to import the first true Pinot Blanc clones to Oregon direct from Alsace in 1975, and Adelsheim Vineyard released its first Pinot Blanc in 1989.  This 2013 Pinot Blanc offers ripe aromas of tropical fruits and white peach with notes of floral perfume and flinty mineral.  The palate is more bold than Pinot Gris with textures and flavors that pair well with steamed mussels. 

Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon

J. Christopher Winery
2013 Cristo Misto

Winemaker J. Somers (Cristo) created this blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling “to win the affection of his wife Ronda.”  It is a tasty wine with aromas of creamy mineral, citrus and floral perfume leading to flavors of crisp lemon-lime citrus, stone fruits and mineral.  It is great with oysters and mussels and other light fare.

2013 Stella Blanca
Columbia Valley AVA

This blend of Semillon (85%) with Sauvignon Blanc (13%) and Moscadelle du Bordelais (2%) was crafted from grapes grown mostly in the Horse Heaven Hills along the Washington side of the Columbia River.  The wine was barrel fermented and aged sur lie in French oak for three months.  This excellent wine for mussels offers aromas and flavors of a citrus mélange, mineral, honeysuckle and notes of vanilla and hazelnut on the finish. 

Davenport Cellars
2013 Snowflake
Columbia Valley AVA

Grapes grown at Bacchus and Dionysus Vineyards in the Columbia Valley were used in this blend of 67% Sauvignon Blanc and 33% Semillon.  Winemaker Jeff and Sheila Jirka fermented the wine in stainless steel, retaining fresh fruit aromas and flavors that complement Northwest shellfish.  Look for aromas and flavors of stone fruits, creamy lemon, orchard blossom and hints of fig and mineral.  

Wines from other areas:

Grgich Hills Estate
2012 Fume Blanc
Napa Valley

The strength and power of Mike Grgich’s Fume Blanc is exceeded only by the balance and structure that his winemakers create in every vintage.  It seems that the only change each year is that the wine becomes just a little more lean, emphasizing mineral and sur lie character over a base of citrus and tart stone fruits.  If there is any drawback, it might be that the wine is so delicious and flavorful that it distracts one’s attention from the oyster! 

Chateau St. Jean
2012 Sauvignon Blanc, La Petite Etoile Vineyard
Russian River Valley AVA

Chateau St. Jean is one of the few wineries that continues to produce two vineyard-designated Fume Blancs as well as a blended version from Sonoma County.  La Petite Etoile Vineyard is in the Russian River Valley AVA and has been owned by the winery since 1988.  This is another classy Fume with impeccable structure and balanced mouth feel show crisp flavors of lemongrass, earthy mineral, grapefruit and dried herbs – very nice with oysters or mussels. 

Pedroncelli Winery
2013 Sauvignon Blanc
Dry Creek Valley

Pedroncelli is one of California’s oldest continuously family-owned wineries, having begun vineyard ownership in the Dry Creek Valley in 1927.  After prohibition, the winery side began to grow and a second generation took on leadership in the 1940s and 1950s.  I discovered the wine in Seattle in the 1970s and have been a big fan ever since.  Pedroncelli Sauvignon Blanc from their East Side Vineyard is a great pairing with oysters or other light foods offering grapefruit, melon, grassy herbs and mineral on both nose and palate. 

Joseph Phelps Vineyards
2013 Sauvignon Blanc
Napa Valley

While Joseph Phelps Vineyards has become known mainly for its red wines – most notably Insignia Cabernet Sauvignon – the winery produces superb white wines as well.  Dedication to quality spans the entire production including their flavorful Sauvignon Blanc, which hails from the estate Spring Valley Home Ranch in St. Helena.  I would recommend this vintage to accompany delectable steamed mussels as the notes of toasty oak, vanilla and spice overwhelm half shell oysters.  Flavors of tropical fruit, lime zest, white peach and melon complete the perfectly structured palate. 

2013 Sauvignon Blanc
Marlborough, NZ

If some of my tasters had their way, every Sauvignon Blanc would be from New Zealand and show the same zesty character as Matua’s offering (as well as others).  The unmistakable aromas of gooseberry, passionfruit and citrus lead to the crisp lemony palate and distinctive Marlborough acidity.  Competition has driven the price down on all NZ Sauvignon Blancs – a good reason to pick some up along with fresh oysters for your weekend shellfish feast. 

Villa Maria Estate
2014 Sauvignon Blanc, Cellar Selection
Marlborough, NZ

Grapes were harvested from both the Awatere and Wairau Valleys in Marlborough to craft this reserve-style Sauvignon Blanc.  A portion of the parcels received skin contact to enhance the intensity of flavor, and sur lie aging for several months added additional complexity.  Aromas of passionfruit and melon lead to a complex palate with grapefruit and flinty mineral added to the mix. 

Kingston Family Vineyard
2013 Cariblanco Sauvignon Blanc

Kingston Family Vineyards is a boutique winery located on a farm that has been in the Kingston family for a century in Casablanca, Chile.  Their Cariblanco Sauvignon Blanc shows the changes made in the vineyard to achieve ripe flavors at lower sugar (and alcohol) levels.  Look for aromas and flavors of ripe citrus, honeysuckle, green bean, herbs and grapefruit – a delicious pairing with oysters and mussels.

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©  October, 2014  Chuck Hill
All rights reserved.  Last revised: 10/24/2014