By Chuck Hill
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Red Rhone Varietals
Pinot Noir & Salmon
White Rhone Varietals
Italian Varietals in America
and Malbec REVIEWS BY
Red Rhone Varietals
Pinot Noir & Salmon
White Rhone Varietals
Italian Varietals in America
REVIEWS BY VARIETAL
Wines of the Week
In my long association with Jon Rowley’s Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition, we have never selected (through blind judging) any varietals other than Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay for the Oyster Award. There are other deserving varietals, but the judging protocols (no foreign wines, very cold wine service) tend to eliminate some very tasty wines.
In my annual judging, I am a little more lenient in allowing foreign wines and serving the wines at cool cellar temperature (40 to 50 degrees F.) Also, we taste with both oysters and mussels, opening the door for more full-bodied wines to successfully pair up with the seafood selections.
Albariño is best known as a dry white wine produced in Galicia (northwest Spain) and parts of Portugal. It is making inroads into American winemaking in the Pacific Northwest and in California. The variety is believed to have been brought to Spain by Cluny monks (Burgundy) in the 12th Century.
Castillo de Feliciana
My tasters enjoyed this crisp and flavorful Albariño made by the Castillo family at their winery in the Walla Walla Valley near Milton-Freewater, Oregon. The wine pairs beautifully with oysters and mussels, showing aromas and flavors of stone fruits, citrus and mineral with notes of floral perfume.
Wade Wolfe crafted this wine from grapes grown at Crawford Vineyard in the Yakima Valley. He fermented the wine in stainless steel to preserve the vibrant fruit character showing aromas and flavors of pear and tangy stone fruits with hints of mineral and vanilla.
As a winery conceived to produce wines of Spanish origin in Southern Oregon, the owners planted Albariño in their Fault Line Vineyard in the warm Umpqua Valley. This is the 13th vintage of Albariño from Abacela. It offers bright aromas of green apple and pear with notes of orchard blossom, and a crisp palate of mineral and pear – great with oysters.
White Rhones and Blends
Most half-shell oyster aficionados find Rhone white varieties to be too
bold to successfully dance with the often delicate flavors of raw
shellfish. However, there are fans of every wine type that are happy to
enjoy it with whatever food is at hand. I prefer Alexandria Nicole’s
excellent Shepherds Mark white Rhone blend with steamed mussels for the
rich-on-rich flavor experience. Look for tropical and citrus character
with rich pear and peach on the palate.
If I were going to make an exception for a Rhone white wine with oysters, this would be the one. The nose of earthy mineral, kiwi and spice invites a sip, yielding a complex palate of citrus, tart pear, melon, beeswax and wet stone. It gives the oyster just enough light-at-the-end-of-the-palate to join the flavor party.
Riesling and Chenin Blanc
Pacific Rim specializes in Riesling. Though they also make Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer and a few other wines, there are almost a dozen different Rieslings offered from each vintage. Most of these aren’t great oyster wines, but the Selenium Vineyard wine goes the citrus route showing grapefruit, lime zest, apple and mineral to match up wonderfully with oysters and mussels.
Woodward Canyon Winery
Perfect fruit from the DuBrul Vineyard north of Sunnyside, Washington was used by Woodward Canyon’s winemakers to create this wine. Peach, nectarine and hints of apricot are the dominant aromas and flavors, though edges of mineral and lemony citrus help bridge the gap to mussels and oysters.
Washington’s Yakima Valley has several sites where Chenin Blanc grapes have been grown for up to 45 years. Several winemakers have jumped on the Chenin Blanc bus, creating wines that vary in style and weight. This version is heavy on the floral perfume, offering aromas of orange blossom, honeysuckle and others, but comes through with grapefruit and pear on the palate.
INOX is the French term for stainless steel, the very material that was used for the tanks in which this wine was fermented and aged. The result of this austere treatment of the Chardonnay grape is a delight for shellfish lovers around the world. Fresh aromas of pear and peach mingle with notes of wet stone and vanilla, and lead to flavors of Asian pear, white peach and creamy lemon.
Looking to create the best Chardonnay, L’Ecole No 41 winemakers selected
fruit from some of the cooler regions in Washington. Yakima Valley
grapes came from the Schmitt and Oasis Vineyards providing tropical
fruit aromas and flavors. From the Evergreen Vineyard on the northern
latitude Wahluke Slope came fruit contributing crisp acidity and
minerality. The wine is a perennial favorite with my tasters who enjoy
a Chardonnay experience with their shellfish.
J. Christopher Winery
Here’s another wine that is eagerly anticipated by my Chardonnay-loving bivalve brethren. Jay Somers makes this wine with no oak aging and no malolactic fermentation, ensuring a crisp, focused wine featuring lemon, mineral, green apple and hints of white pepper and lime zest – an oysterific selection.
More Northwest Sauvignon Blancs
Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards
A few miles off Interstate 5 from Sutherlin, Oregon, one finds Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards near the town of Umpqua. The picturesque, landscaped grounds and amphitheater offer the visitor the ability to stroll and relax before or after wine tasting. Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards crafts a wide range of varietal wines, including this tasty Sauvignon Blanc featuring lemon, grapefruit, grassy herbs and notes of tropical fruit.
In one of the hottest growing seasons on record in Washington’s Yakima Valley, the fruit for this wine was harvested in the cool, early morning hours at Spring Creek Vineyard. The juice was separated from the skins and allowed to cool-settle for 48 hours before being racked off the solids and inoculated with a special yeast known to enhance grapefruit, passion fruit and lychee. This plan worked well and resulted in a crisp and lively wine with grapefruit, mineral and herbal flavors that pair perfectly with shellfish.
Three Rivers Winery
Before we get to the wine and oysters, how about a few holes of golf? Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla is the only winery I know of that has a three-hole pitch and putt adjacent to the tasting room. Winery customers can check out clubs and balls and play the three short holes for free – what a perk for linksters! Golf works up a good thirst for a crisp white wine like Three Rivers Sauvignon Blanc, crisp with flavors of peach and pear and underlying notes of melon and Meyer lemon.
From Precept Brands House Wines category, this clean and crisp Sauvignon Blanc offers just what the oyster lover seeks: clear varietal aroma of tropical fruit, gooseberry and citrus, and a light, crisp palate with just a hint of sweetness to pair with sweet and flavorful oysters – good value.
Wines from other areas:
Albariño is grown in the Galicia region of northwest Spain in an area known as the Rias Baixas. This thick-skinned white grape has been cultivated here since the 12th century and has its origins in more northern Europe. The Masaveu family owns the Fillaboa winery and produces wine only from estate-owned vineyards. Look for ripe tropical fruit aromas with notes of mineral and pear. The palate is somewhat soft, offering complex flavors of pineapple, pear and creamy lemon.
The Martin Codax winery was founded in 1986 as a cooperative of about 50 local grape growers with Albariño as its signature wine. The 2013 vintage offers a refreshing blend of the tropical peach and pear flavors of the variety with crisp mineral and sweet lemon flavors on the palate – a very tasty accompaniment to oysters and mussels.
Gavi wine is produced in the southern part of the Piedmont region of Italy from the Cortese grape variety. Like Albariño, it has its own character and a terroir coming from the calcareous soils of the region. Seafood lovers appreciate the light character of citrus, herbs and mineral, providing a pleasant change from domestic varieties when enjoying oysters and mussels.
The romantic story of Principessa Gavia tells of a girl defying her father, the king, to elope with her chosen beau. They fled to this corner of the Piedmont but were found by the king. Realizing how happy the couple was, the king relented and named the region and its local wine in her honor. Ahhh, love. Share a bottle of this spritely and refreshing wine with your love to enjoy aromas and flavors of lemon zest, flinty mineral and green apple.
As one of Napa Valley’s few remaining family wine estates, Trefethen Vineyards has never purchased a single outside grape. Indeed, all the grapes for their oyster-friendly Riesling come from their Main Ranch in the Oak Knoll District of southern Napa Valley. This cool growing area produces fruit with balanced acidity to create food wines. Floral aromas mingle with lime and tropical fruits leading to a crisp palate of mineral, grapefruit and peaches.