On the Road with the Grape Guy

On the Road with the Grape Guy is a on-going feature that follows me from event to event ... I post my thoughts, feelings and reviews of what happened and what I tasted ... basically it is here that I review the events I attend and the things that thrilled me.

Oregon and Washington State Wine Expedition

13 May 2022

(September 2021) ... First out of the gate for mass wine tastings in the city of Toronto is the Washington / Oregon event ... So all eyes were on how they had positioned themselves to handle the pandemic measures.

There were three tastings of an hour and a half, each ... Tables were individual and spaced apart. Six glasses per table, plus a water glass and a large spit cup. They sent servers around to ask for your order. This proved to be inefficient for a fast taster like myself. What proved to be more efficient was the agents and principles who decided to walk around with their wares, pour and talk about them directly.

I opted for the a.m. tasting session so I would have to believe this more efficient way of doing things caught on by the late morning and afternoon tastings.

As for the wine's poured, I could not get to them all, nor all the ones I had tagged to try, but I did get a fair amount tasted and here are my favorites ... These wines are broken down by state. I did taste more Oregon than Washington as I had recently visited Washington and those notes can be found here, here and here.


The major grape, by a wide margin, in Oregon is Pinot Noir with a 59% stranglehold. Followed by Pinot Gris at 14%, Chardonnay at 7%, Syrah/ Cabernet Sauvignon at 4% and rounding out the top five is Merlot at 2%. In total there are approximately 35,970 acres planted, the majority of which are in the Willamette valley (68%) and Southern Okanogan (25%). Interesting to note that Oregon makes up a mere 1% of the "fine wine produced in the United States”. 75% of Oregon wineries produce less than 5,000 cases annually; but it is interesting to note that 7% of Wine Spectators 90+ domestic wine scores in 2020 came from Oregon.

The Oregon Wines ...
(only wines scoring four or above et a tasting note)

Adelsheim 2019 Chardonnay, Willamette Valley(*** ½+)

Adelsheim 2019 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley(*** ½+)

Brittan Vineyards 2015 Basalt Block Pinot Noir
Brittan was started by a Californian wine maker who decided he needed to move to Oregon and make great Pinot Noir ... Good choice on his part: a silky opening with rich black fruit and smoky notes, plus white pepper and earthy characteristics ... Almost comes across as un-Oregon in nature, but still really good if not atypical of the region.  (****)

Brittan Vineyards 2016 Cygnus Block Pinot Noir
See above for the origins of this winery, and once again we have an atypical wine, but with lots going for it, so that can easily be overlooked: dark fruited with earthy and smoky nuances plus black cherry and mocha on the finish.  (****)

Citation 2017 Centerstone Willamette Valley Unoak Chardonnay ... (*** ½+)

Cristom Vineyards 2019 Mount Jefferson Cuvee Pinot Noir ... (*** ½+)

Cristom Vineyards 2018 "Eileen" Vineyard Pinot Noir
Good acidity with sour cherry, smoked-red currants and cranberry. Lovely mouthfeel and tasty as hell (so to speak).  (****)

Lemelson Vineyards 2018 Tikka's Run Pinot Gris ... (*** ½+)

Lemelson Vineyards 2017 Thea's Selection Pinot Noir ... (*** ½+)

Lemelson Vineyards 2017 Pinot Noir
Smoked-cranberry, earthy-strawberry, dried cherry and pretty violet notes all converge, while tannins drop in on the finish just to prove a point: they exist and belong in this Pinot.  (****)

Lemelson Vineyards 2017 Reserve Chardonnay
Butter and butterscotch show up, but with friends like baked-peach and baked-apple also appearing along with a pretty appealing mid-palate to finish, this is one tasty Chardonnay.  (****)

Pearce Prudhomme 2020, Pinot Gris, Yawhill- Newberg Willamette Valley(*** ½+)

Pearce Prudhomme Pinot Noir Stag's Hollow Creek, Willamette Valley
Typical earthy and smoky notes, but it's the fruit that screams Oregon, a mix of both red and black.  (****)

Ste Michelle 2019 Oregon Pinot Noir Rose ... (*** ½)

Ste Michelle 2019 Erath Resplendent Pinot Noir ... (*** ½+)

Troon Vineyard 2020 Druids Fluid White ... (*** ½+)

Troon Vineyard 2020 Vermentino
Lovely pear notes that sing on the palate with a little citrus pith on the finish ... Really interesting and a good representation of Vermentino in this part of the world.  (****)


Washington ...
(only wines scoring four or above et a tasting note)

Due to the rain shadow effect, Washington State wine country has some of the largest day and night temperature fluctuations of any wine region, known as diurnal temperatures. The dual mountain ranges of the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, which soak up most of the weather systems, help create the perfect growing conditions for grapes on the other side of the mountains.

Today in Washington there are over 1,050 wineries, 90% of which are small independent producers making under 5,000 cases.

There are 400 plus growers and 60,000+ acres of grapes. Top varieties in the state are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, and Syrah.

As stated earlier, because of limited time, I tasted less Washington wine than I did Oregon wine, but of the ones I did taste, here were my top selections.

The Washington Wines ...

Aquilini 2018 Be Human Cabernet Sauvignon ... (*** ½+)

Barnard Griffin 2018 Syrah ... (*** ½+)

Barnard Griffin 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon
From one of the oldest family-owned wineries in Washington State, started in 1993, which means there’s plenty of experience with this grape. Cabernet is not often delicate, but this wines proves otherwise - more red fruited than black, more latte than coffee bean, yet all of these do make an appearance. Subtly smoky on the finish. A real winning version of Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington State; and my top wine of the day.  (**** ½)

Barnard Griffin 2018 Merlot
Merlot sourced from three vineyards in Washington: Black Rock, Vinagium, and Lonesome Spring Ranch - two from Yakima and one from Red Mountain ... All age 17 months in a mix of new and neutral European oak barrels. This is pure Washington Merlot pleasure at its finest as notes of violet meets black fruit to drive the wine forward - there's a smooth delicacy across the palate with subtle smoky notes ... But when all is said and done this is a drinkable, almost crushable, bottle of Merlot that's both balanced and has enough complexity to please oenophiles and newbies alike.  (****+)

Betz Family Winery 2018 Untold Story Cabernet Blend
Syrah, Merlot and Grenache join Cabernet in here for this smooth and silky blend with lush black fruit and hints of mocha on the finish.  (****)

Betz Family Winery 2017 Sunu Willamette Valley ... (*** ½+)

Betz Family Winery 2018 Domaine de Pierres, Syrah, Ancient Stones Vineyard, The Rocks District
This long name is the way Betz describes this second vintage release of their 100% Syrah, planted in a dry riverbed. Surprisingly smoky, subtle and earthy with a big mineral hit, plus plenty of raspberry fruit and a peppery finish.  (****+)

Reynvaan Family Vineyards 2018 Stonessence
100% Syrah that hits all the right notes. From the raspberry fruit to the delicate pepperiness, plus hints of smoke and even some subtle earthy characteristics.  (****)


Torres Tasting 2021

09 May 2022

(November 2021) ... Torres has started a new initiative. Called "regenerative viticulture” over the years Torres has backed many initiatives to help give back to the land: lowering their carbon footprint, is but one example. We have interviewed Miguel Torres Maczassek on our podcast (Two Guys Talking Wine which can be found here) about many of them. We’re hoping to grab him again for this one in the 2022 season.

Today, Miguel joined us via zoom to discuss the wineries latest projects and, of course, wines.

The Torres place in wine dates back to the 16th century, with their first “winery” in the Penedes dating back to 1870 in Villa Franca, it has been 100% family-owned through the five generations of its existence.

According to Miguel, Torres started to really notice the effects of climate change in 2008 and figured out how they could lower their carbon footprint (to have the "lowest possible") - they met their previous goal (30%) and have now set a new goal (60%) and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, though they are on track to reach it 5 years earlier (by 2045). They are also looking to plant grapes at higher altitudes, in an attempt to keep a sense of freshness in their wine, and they are attempting to discover (or rediscover) lost varieties like: Forcada, Moneu, Garro, Pirene just to name a handful they have already found.





Now back to “Regenerative Viticulture" ... The main question facing the wine producer these days is about soil erosion and loss of fertility ... Here Miguel showed us several vineyard photos that had lost “topsoil” through erosion, when compared with the graft point on the vines themselves, which is where topsoil should start. Miguel realized that they were not just vine growers, but also needed to be experts on ground cover and studies are now underway to plant various varieties of grass as they try to breathe life back into the vineyard (aka: carbon). They have learned that mulching (carpet of cuttings) helps to keep the soil cool. A study of sheep (once a natural way to keep both soil and pruning under control) showed that a once plethora of the animal, numbering, some 26,000 at one point, had been lowered to a mere 3,000 ... These days it's about optimizing grass growing and getting additional life into the soil, ie: keeping carbon, and thus getting rich, healthy soils. The way to do that is to create more resilient soils – and they want to bring their ideas and findings to 7.4 million hectares around the world... By doing so, they will help preserve fertility in the vineyards from everywhere. It's a lofty goal, but one that must be done to keep the wine industry and grape growing, viable for the future generations.

The Wines …

And now... The current lineup of wines from the Anthologia Collection. These are the "creme de la creme" of the Torres wines from Spain ... This year the wines came in 375 ml bottles, so they could be enjoyed a few times through the course of the day; to assess their aging potential.

MilmandaTorres 2018 Milmanda    
A little richer than you would expect, spicy, vanilla, smoky – but with a very pretty nose - needs to be cold to be enjoyed, as it warms it loses some of that nice character. Touches of vanilla, apple, almond, apricot. Decent acidity.  (*** ½+)

From the winemaker brochure: Milmanda was part of a route of medieval castles that gave shelter to Christians during the time of the reconquest. In the XIIth century peace came to these lands and vinegrowing began anew. Today, it is at the foot of these castle walls, that the Torres family grows the Chardonnay that produces Milmanda.    Partial malo (20%) / aged in 300L barrels (80% new) all French / 4-6 months / 10 months on lees in vats

Torres 2017 Mas La Plana
Cabernet Sauvignon - from the Mas La Plana vineyard    
Lovely dark cherry and spice, with plum and licorice - dark yet juicy, subtle smoke, black pepper and acidity sit on the back palate with a little mocha and raspberry, plus pencil shavings. This is almost a fruit bomb, but it’s backed with so many layers plus great balance ... fresh and lively, good tannin structure.  (****+)    

From the winemaker brochure: The first vintage of Mas La Plana was in the year 1970 with the name ‘Gran Coronas Etiqueta Negra’. The wine soon gained international recognition, winning in 1979 the Wine Olympics in Paris, organized by the Gault-Millau magazine.  The best French wines participated in this competition.  In its beginnings, the wine incorporated small amounts of Tempranillo, but the main variety was always Cabernet Sauvignon.  Since 1978, the wine is made exclusively with Cabernet Sauvignon. Penedes, the second oldest wine region in Spain – started 2700 year ago or more / 29 hectares vineyard / dry vintage - good vintage for reds / 18 months French - 60% new

Torres 2017 Reserva Real    
Cab Sauv / Merlot / Cab Franc    
Very gutsy with big tannins and aggressive spice: spiced plum, black cherry and other black fruits join coffee bean and hints of mint on the palate. There’s also a tobacco note, with cigar box and a gritty finish - nice potential for ageing ... deep, dark and brooding.  (****)    

From the winemaker brochure: Reserva Real was first produced in 1995 following up the visit of Juan Carlos I, King  of  Spain,  to  our  winery.  Reserva  Real  is  one  of  our  “Antología”  wines  with  a  very limited  production.  It comes from a very strict sorting of the best Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot from one of our parcel of Les Arnes (4 hectares only).    Slate vineyard / hot vintage uses more Cab Franc - mild vintage more Merlot / always Cab Sauv dominated: 61% Cabernet Sauvignon / 26% Cabernet Franc / 13% Merlot.

Torres 2017 Grans Muralles
Garnacha, Cariñena, Querol, Monastrell, and Garró    
Floral, slightly smoky with a mineral character and lovely array or red fruits. Good acidity and lovely red-floral notes on the palate, tannins are non-aggressive, with red peppercorns on the finish. Ready to drink now, but has a good 10 years ahead of it ... fresh and lively, well balanced and drinkable.  (**** ½)    

From the winemaker brochure: This wine owes its name to the walls that protected the Poblet Monastery from mercenaries and wars.  The unique identity of Grans Muralles rests on the stony slate grounds (Licorella and Granite) of the region and the grape varieties grown there.  A century after the phylloxera plague, the Torres family managed to recover native varieties believed to be extinct such as Garró or Querol using modern viticultural techniques. These grape varieties together with Cariñena, Garnacha and Monastrell, preserve the spirit of this unique wine. Name means great or grand wall / deep slate soils / slow ripening / 44% Carinena - 38% Grenacha - 10% Querol - 5% Mourvedre - 3% Garro / first vintage 1996 / in 2009 Querol was added.

Torres 2018 Mas de la Rosa    
Carinena / Garnacha    
Very delicate wine, it’s a field blend of two grapes (listed above): floral and spicy, good acidity, red licorice, strawberry and cherry. Soft, supple and tasty - light in colour, but robust in flavour and great finesse. Miguel likes this wine because it has an "exciting edge", I would tend to agree.  (**** ½)    

From the winemaker brochure: Mas de la Rosa is one of the most hidden and beautiful valleys in the Priorat, a place that historically was one of the first inhabited “masías” (Catalan word for farmhouse) in the area of Porrera. The whole vineyard field blend of Garnache & Carinena is about 80 years old, planted in “bush vines”. The vineyard only gets the morning sunshine, due to its orientation, and this, together with an altitude of about 500m above sea level and its aeration, provide a wine with naturally fresh characteristics. Smallest vineyard they have: 1.9 hectars / pre-1945 planting / first vintage 2016 / from the Priorat / "heroic viticulture" used due to the slopes / 60-40 Carinena Grenacha split (approximately) / short maceration on the Carinena (3-4 days) to keep it soft and approachable.


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