The wines of Youngberg Hill Vineyards reflect the “essence of place.” Wayne Bailey, owner/winemaker, uses holistic farming practices as well as the Burgundian wine-making techniques that he picked up from his two-year tutelage in Burgundy’s vineyards. The result is beautiful Oregon Pinot Noirs that are alive in the bottle and have good aging potential.
I recently sat down with Wayne over lunch and Youngberg Hill wine. Wayne grew up on an Iowa farm. Though his career took quite a circuitous route to becoming a winemaker, he truly has a passion for making terroir-driven wines, using sustainable farming practices. Three of Youngberg Hill’s vineyard blocks are named after Wayne’s three daughters: Natasha, Jordan and Aspen. As a family, they enjoy hosting guests at the vineyard inn and producing award-winning wines.
I had almost as much fun drinking Youngberg Hill wine as the Bailey’s have had making it. Over lunch, I enjoyed the 2008 and 2009 vintages of the Natasha Block Pinot Noir in addition to the 2008 and 2009 vintages of the Jordan Block Pinot Noir. Later, I enjoyed a bottle of the 2007 Jordan. The wines from each block are as different from one another as each vintage –proof that there is little manipulation in the winemaking process.
Youngberg Hill Jordan Block Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2009, 2008, 2007
Youngberg Hill Jordan Block Pinot Noirs are delicous. Jordan Pinot Noir effortlessly balances lush red fruit notes with lively acidity and mushrooms with minerality. These wines are elegant, complex and so enjoyable to drink. Jordan Block Pinot Noir is the flagship wine of Youngberg Hill. The Jordan Block vines are from Pommard and Wadenswil clones and grow at higher elevation than the Natasha Block. The soil type is volcanic, characteristically producing wines with notes of mushroom and forest floor.
Youngberg Hill Natasha Block Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2009, 2008
The 2009 and 2008 Natasha Block Pinot Noirs are restrained with considerable acidity. The 2009 vintage tastes a bit young, though it expresses notes of black cherry, raspberry, forest floor and pepper spices. The 2008 vintage comes from a perfect growing season. It’s structure is similar to the 2009 vintage but has more depth. The Natasha Block Pinot Noir is grown in marine sedimentary soil from Pommard and Wadenswil clones. These vines produce wines with brighter fruit and pepper spice. The 2009 Natasha made a lovely pairing with Naha‘s Risotto with braised pork shank, cremini mushrooms, spinach and glazed onions (pictured above).
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House of Mandela just launched its wines in the U.S. market with Royal Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 and Royal Reserve Chardonnay 2009. Indeed, House of Mandela is the royal family of Nelson Mandela. Royal? Why, yes. Nelson Mandela and his heirs are part of the royal lineage of the Thembu dynasty of South Africa. The House of Mandela brand was founded by Nelson Mandela’s daughter, Makaziwe Mandela, and granddaughter, Tukwini Mandela, to honor their family’s lineage and sow into its future growth.
Although the House of Mandela does not grow its own grapes, it sources all of its grapes from family-owned vineyards in South Africa who are committed to sustainable farming practices and paying fair worker wages. The House of Mandela wines were produced in partnership with Master of Wine Lynne Sherriff. House of Mandela wines are imported and distributed by Heritage Link Brands.
ROYAL RESERVE CHARDONNAY STELLENBOSCH 2009
House of Mandela Royal Reserve Chardonnay Stellenbosch 2009 has very expressive fruit aromas. Its notes of pears, apples and stone fruit are not overshadowed by the notes of vanilla and baking spices from its aging in French barrels. The body is a bit lighter than your average oaked Chardonnay.
ROYAL RESERVE CABERNET SAUVIGNON WESTERN CAPE 2008
House of Mandela Royal Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Western Cape 2008 is an easy drinking Cabernet. Like its counterpart Chardonnay, the fruit notes are very expressive. Notes of black and jammy red fruit are prominent on the palate but tempered by earthy notes of bramble and dried herbs. Although it doesn’t have the complexity I would expect at this price point, it has a lovely texture with soft tannins and balanced acidity.
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Thanks to Tasting Room, I had the pleasure of tasting through six Trione Vineyards & Winery labels in one sitting in the comfort of my own home. The TastingRoom.com concept allows consumers to create a wine tasting experience at home with mini bottles of wine sized to fit a single tasting pour. My tasting set came in a recyclable black box containing six sample sized bottles (50ml/1.7oz) of Trione wines as well as information about the wines, the winery and Tasting Room FAQs.
The marketing side of Tasting Room has just been taken over by Lot 18 –the wine flash sale site. Prior to the Lot 18 partnership, I visited TastingRoom.com at least a couple of times but never purchased anything because none of the inventory grabbed my attention. In the future, I hope to see Tasting Room offer more expensive and/or exclusive wines that we would otherwise be less likely to have the opportunity to taste. We’ll have to stay tuned to see what changes, if any, might be made to the original format of Tasting Room.
In the meantime, let’s talk about Trione. Trione Vineyards & Winery is a family owned, small producer in Sonoma County. Trione grows its grapes in the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations. It’s difficult to get to know a wine in just 1.7 ounces, but I thought all of the wines were well made with good balance and complexity. The wines I tasted included Trione Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley 2010, Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2008, Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2008, Syrah Russian River Valley 2008, Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2007, and Red Wine blend Alexander Valley 2007.
How about a Tasting Room experience of your own?
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I love Restaurant Week in Chicago. It’s a great opportunity to try new restaurants, and because the menu is typically a three-course prix fixe, I have an excuse not to pass on dessert. This also means that the week after restaurant week is gym week for me. One of my favorite Restaurant Week discoveries this winter was TWO –a new Chicago farm-to-fork restaurant. The Restaurant Week menu included four courses, and our table for two at TWO on Tuesday ordered everything on the menu. While the food was great, all I remember is how fantastic our wine selections were. Unfortunately, ordering wine by the glass often limits my wine choices. But at TWO, we ordered by the glass and still had one of the most memorable wine experiences I have had in a while. Here’s what we drank …and ate:
Ken Forrester ‘Petit’ Chenin Blanc South Africa 2011
Chenin Blanc is one of the most underrated wines in America. Ken Forrester produces some of the best Chenin Blanc, and this one is no exception. It has expressive fruit notes, balanced acidity and a full body that stood up to the richness in our first two courses. Our first course included Onion Soup and Duck Fat Potato Croquettes. Risotto and Duck Egg Pasta composed our second course.
M. Chapoutier “Belleruche Rouge” Cotes-Du-Rhone 2009
Who doesn’t love Rhone? Belleruche Rouge is a beautiful and versatile red wine blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah that paired as well with Wild Boar Sausage as it did with Grilled Arctic Char.
Kopke Colheita 1986
This vintage tawny port is to die for and made an excellent pairing with Banana Bread Pudding and Homemade Pretzel Donuts.
These perfect pairings by the glass at TWO are attributed to the talented Owner/Chef/Sommelier, Yamandú Pérez. Not only is he Owner/Chef/Sommelier but he makes a wonderful host, as he gave me the warmest welcome that I remember ever receiving at a restaurant. I highly recommend that you have dinner with wine at TWO for two or four or more.
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Mainstreet Wines –a wine shop located in the Western Chicago Suburb of Countryside- is great at engaging and educating its customers through wine tastings and events. The Wine & Food Galas (one in Fall and one in Spring) are Mainstreet’s biggest events of the year. Wine distributers open their wines from around the world for tasting and local restaurants sample their food. I am a huge fan of large scale wine tastings like the Wine & Food Gala because it is a fantastic opportunity to taste a ton of wines side-by-side to make new discoveries and develop your palate. At the Fall Wine & Food Gala I discovered a few wines that I’ve been drinking and sharing all winter long:
Ken Wright Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2010 ($30)
Ken Wright is one of my favorite Willamette Valley, Oregon producers of Pinot Noir. Until the Wine & Food Gala, I had no idea that Ken Wright produced an entry level Pinot Noir. When you’re not in the mood to splurge on Ken Wright’s single vineyard Pinot Noir, this Pinot Noir gives bang for your buck.
Bogle Phantom Zinfandel/Petite Sirah/Mourvedre California 2009 ($20)
Bogle Phantom was one of the top ten wines of the Gala by popularity. This crowd-pleasing red wine blend was a big hit when I served it with my favorite triple cream cow’s milk cheese—Red Hawk by Cowgirl Creamery. It’s a great wine to drink by itself because of its big red fruit and spicy notes.
Josef Reuscher Erben Riesling Auslese Mosel 2010 ($20)
Josef Reuscher Erben Auslese Riesling is on the sweeter side, making it an awesome pairing with Thai food. Its light body, vibrant acidity and balance of minerality and luscious fruit and floral notes make it an easy favorite.
Mainstreet Wines’ Spring Wine & Food Gala is fast approaching on March 17, 2013. Don’t miss the opportunity to make your own discoveries for the Spring season that, I hope, is also fast approaching. For more information, please visit Mainstreet Wines’ website.