Patricia Green Cellars in 2015

Not surprisingly for someone who wants to make “wines from dirt to wine,” Patty Green has worked from the ground up.
Patty Green
After a stint doing reforestation work (which sounds better than “planting lots of trees,”  Patty began in the wine business by picking grapes at Hillcrest Vineyard in the mid-1980s. By 1987 she was assistant winemaker there, followed by some consulting work in the early 1990s.

In 1993 she became winemaker and sole employee of Torri Mor where Jim Anderson eventually signed on as employee number two. After a fine run there (including plenty of highly rated wines and a bunch of local and national acclaim), she and Jim left to form Patricia Green Cellars in 2000.
The 2015 Vintage in Willamette

With 25+ vintages under her belt, Patty’s had the chance to see pretty much everything the Willamette Valley has to offer. So I think her comments about vintage 2015 from a recent newsletter are worth quoting at length:

“There is a lot of wine. Fortunately most of it is very good, an amazing amount is stellar, a couple of sites are uniquely exceptional and then one fermenter is…we’ll get to that another time. Explaining it is not particularly easy. It was a hot summer. 29 days with 90+ temperatures. That’s unusual in Oregon to say the least. There was ripeness for sure and higher than average brix. The wines in general do not taste like they are from a warm vintage, they are not big wines for the most part, they are by and large graceful, aromatic, nuanced and deeply complex wines. They are in great condition and our feeling is that they are going to be long lived and very serious wines that will happen to provide early term pleasure and satisfy both the hard core Pinot Noir drinker and those that are more casual with their varietal allegiances.
“The above summary was our take on the 2014 vintage. Nearly word for word it applies to the 2015 vintage. Overall the wines may be better. Why? We had a practice run the year before. We learned. We got better. If you liked those wines, you will love these.”
As always, Jim (taking lead in the winery) and Patty (lead on vineyards) made their winemaking decisions on the fly as the fruit arrived. Where it made sense, some blocks went into the fermenter as whole clusters. Others were completely destemmed and still others a mix of on- and off-stem berries. Each fermenter was punched down for extraction and left to soak until Jim and Patty thought it was about right and then racked off into new, second, third or fourth-used barrels as they thought made sense.
The Three Constants

In other words, the recipe here is “no recipe”! Just three things are constant for every wine: native yeast fermentation; all barrels from France’s Cadus, a premier Pinot Noir barrel house; and tasting, tasting, and tasting some more as the wines evolve to pick the right time and best blend to bottle.

In 2015, Jim and Patty bottled 20+ Pinot Noirs, each telling a unique story of site, vine variety and vintage. After a morning tasting with Jim at the winery in early March, we selected these four as our favorite expressions of Patricia Green Cellars’ unique sites and of this great, great vintage.
Patricia Green 2015s

What We’re Tasting: How Sweet It Is

Wine-and-Chocolate

Maybe we were all picked last for dodgeball in gym class as kids, but we’re suckers for wines that have a bad reputation.  We just want to rescue them from obscurity and show everyone how fantastic they can be!

Hawley Late Harvest Zin – This was a real discovery for us.  Often, dry red Zinfandel can be a little heavy and jammy.  This late-harvest version, harvested at 32 brix, too high to really be fermented into dry table wine, avoids many of the pitfalls of regular red Zinfandel.  Mouthwatering acidity balances the sweetness, and it’s surprisingly light on the palate for a dessert wine made from Zinfandel.  Perfect for a ‘little something’ after dinner, or with any dessert involving berries or chocolate.

Dow’s 2011 – Port can be an intimidating category, with so much history, a high price point, and all the different types (LBV?  Tawny?).  Well, there’s no need to break out the Oxford Companion here.  2011 is considered to be an absolute monster of a Port vintage, with the structure to age, but ripe, luscious tannins that make the wines enjoyable today, too.  The only thing you need to decide is whether you want it in half or full bottles.  A few dark chocolates on a fancy platter, and dessert for your next dinner party is all set.

Perucchi Vermouth Gran Reserva Red – We know what you’re thinking: Isn’t Vermouth that stuff you try to avoid in martinis?  The stuff moldering in the rail at your local bar?  We thought so, too, until we tried some of the better Vermouths out there, like this handmade red Vermouth from Italian producer Perucchi.  Its aromas are so complex, you’ll just want to dive into the glass.  It elevates a Manhattan for sure, but its spicy aromas are perfect for this cooler time of year, and can be enjoyed solo or with a twist of orange peel and a splash of club soda or sparkling mineral water.

It may not be cool to admit you have a sweet tooth, but we won’t tell anyone.  Take a break from Thanksgiving menu planning and gift shopping to indulge in a little something sweet!

What We’re Drinking

9.24.13 048If anyone knows the importance of having a house wine, it’s Randy.  But after years of enjoying Ch de Chasseloir’s crisp, delightful Muscadet for after-work refreshment, he’s switched it up!  Now the house wine chez Randy is another minerally white from the Loire Valley, but this time a Chardonnay!  The Le Souchais Chardonnay has a bit more richness than a traditional Muscadet made from Melon de Bourgogne, but it has all of its chalky minerality.  A wonderful everyday sipper, great with young, soft cheeses, chicken dishes, or Breaking Bad!

Diane enjoyed a fabulous dinner out at Ray’s the steaks in Arlington.  The traditional sides of creamed spinach and mashed potatoes were fantastic, as was the crab bisque, but what really stood out with the New York Strip and Delmonico was the side of sauteed wild mushrooms.  Full of flavor, they were perfect with the 2004 Damilano Liste she squirreled away in her suitcase in January on the way back from Italy.  Still powerful and grippy, but with more than enough fresh fruit to enjoy now, it was worth leaving behind a few pairs of socks to make room for it!  The 2006 Brunate and Cannubi are available, but they will need a few more years to unwind…

Doug and Meg are just back from their vacation out west, and Doug brought home a  bottle of our new favorite (they’re all favorites at some point – that’s how much we love bubbles around here!) Champagne, the Coessens Blanc de Noir.  Powerful and rich, but still light on its feet, with intriguing notes of ginger and red fruit, it’s the kind of unique sparkler we love spending an evening with.

So now that the air has turned a little crisper, what are you drinking?

Beating the Heat

It’s that time of year again, when our thoughts all turn to how to keep wine safe during summer heat waves.  Here are answers to some common questions about helping your wine beat the heat:

Can I ship wine?  We recommend you avoid shipping wine during the hottest months of the summer.  If you do ship, especially if you’re shipping UPS Ground, try to have the package go out on a Monday to avoid having the wine sit in a UPS warehouse with uncertain temperature control over the weekend.  This feature from the National Weather Service is a handy, graphical way to see what the temperatures will be like in the parts of the country where your wine is going to make its journey.

What if I leave wine in the trunk on a hot day?  If the wine was only exposed to high temperatures for a short time, like a few hours, it’s probably OK.  Check to make sure that the corks haven’t pushed out.  This is a common consequence of overheated wine that can bring on the companion problem of oxidation since the cork is no longer fully sealing the bottle.  What we’ve found is that short-term heat damage takes some time to show itself.  It can affect the long-term aging potential of a wine, but it seems to not affect its short-term drinkability very much.  In short, if you’ve left a case of moderately priced Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio in the trunk for a few hours on a hot Thursday for a party you’re going to throw on Friday or Saturday night and the corks are intact, you’re most likely fine.  If it’s Barolo you’re planning on aging for 10 years or more and you like to drink wine at the mature end of its window, we’d recommend exercising caution and opening those bottles a little sooner than you might otherwise.

Is my wine storage too warm?  A temperature-controlled storage space isn’t an option for everyone, but even if you don’t have a custom wine cellar, there are some steps you can take to make sure you don’t end up with heat-damaged wine.  In addition to finding the coolest spot in your house that you can, your wine storage area should also be dark and free of vibration.  So, your kitchen, boiler room or laundry room aren’t great candidates.  Your best bet is a corner of a basement or a closet – anywhere relatively cool, without a lot of light streaming in from a window.  The ideal temperature range is 45 – 65 degrees Farenheit, but if your wine storage area is a few degrees warmer than that, it’s not the end of the world.  Almost as important as the actual temperature is having it hold steady – rapid swings in temperature cause the liquid inside the bottle to expand and contract, which can cause those pushed-out corks we’re trying to avoid.  And remember, capsules that don’t spin or stickiness on the neck of the bottle are telltale signs of leakage, which means the cork that has either been pushed out or was damaged in some way.  If wine can get out, air can get in, and oxidation from too much air exposure is just as bad as heat damage!

What does heat damage taste/smell like?  Heat damage can present as prune-y aromas and flavors, or as very strong, almost flamboyant fruit aromas that fade into nothing on the palate.  Wine that is heat damaged can also take on Madeira-like aromas and flavors, since Madeira is a style of wine that is created by intentional heat damage.

We hope this helps ease your wine-related worries!  Tips or heat damage horror stories to share?  Let us know!

Common Questions About Port

How is Port Made?  Briefly, all Port starts out the same. Ripe grapes are harvested (mainly by hand), brought to the winery, crushed, and given a fast, hot fermentation to extract as much color and tannin as possible over three days or less. Then the young wine is decanted into a large vessel filled about half full with grape brandy to fortify the wine and stop fermentation. After that, the wine goes through different types of aging and blending depending on the style being made. Taylor Fladgate offers a great, in-depth description of Port production on their website.

How is Vintage Port Different from Other Ports?  Taylor Fladgate offers a great, in-depth, discussion of this topic here.  Briefly, though, Port can be broken down into two basic styles – bottle-aged and wood-aged. Wood-aged wines become Tawny Ports and can be bottled young and fresh or given 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years in barrel. They are typically orangey/tawny in color and have aromas and flavors of caramel, toasted nuts, and burnt sugar.

Bottle-aged Ports receive, at most, a short stay in barrel before going into bottle – sometimes this style is called “Vintage Style” Port. The wines are deeply colored purple or red, have lots of fruit, and feature firm tannins that deliver what the English call “grip.” “Ruby” Ports are the bottom of the quality pyramid here, followed by “Reserve” Ports – Graham’s Five Grapes is a famous example. Both Ruby and Reserve Ports are usually blends of wines from different vintages.

In good, not great, years, Port houses often make a wine called Late Bottled Vintage. This is usually a wine that has much of the concentration needed to make vintage Port, but has angular or hard tannins and/or lacks the stuffing needed in a top quality wines. LBV Ports are from a single vintage, but age in barrel for two to four years to soften and open before bottling. They are ready to drink on release, but can improve for a few years in cellar.

Vintage Port is the apex of Port quality, made only in the best years from the very best grapes a winery can get – usually it is less than two percent of an estate’s harvest. Unlike LBV, it spends only a few months in barrel and is bottled no more than 18 months from the vintage.

Do I Have to Age Vintage Port for Decades?  You certainly can age wines like these from a vintage like 2011 for many, many years. Warre’s 1970, Graham’s 1966, and Cockburn 1955 were all absolutely delicious when sampled last week! But changes in how grapes are being farmed and how the wine is made mean that you have a much wider window of enjoyment now than ever before.

Until about 20 years ago, you faced two main challenges in drinking Vintage Port young. First, the wine had a lot of brandy in it and that brandy often needed years to fully integrate into the finished wine. Opening a young Port meant getting a heady whiff of alcohol and a bit of searing heat as the wine went down your throat.

While your throat was burning, your mouth was puckering – because Port is always a deeply tannic wine and the young wine’s tannins were typically pretty fierce, rough, and drying. After a decade or so in cellar, the alcohol integrates and the tannins start to soften, giving you a more supple, elegant wine to enjoy after a fine meal.

Over the past 20 years, though, Port has gotten better in two key ways. First, Port makers have invested serious money and effort in understanding how brandy integrates with Port and how to buy brandies that fortify without sticking out and burning. Even as barrel samples, the young 2011 Ports tasted last week already showed fantastic integration of their alcohol, a process that will be largely complete by the time the wines arrive in the USA.

And Port houses have invested even more money in their vineyards, learning how to tend their vines to achieve full phenolic ripeness and softer, silkier, just plain more pleasing tannins than in the past. Yes, all of these young Ports have a LOT of tannin – but it’s so ripe and well developed that it coats your mouth like wet velvet or slides across your palate like fine silk, leaving the right grippy bite behind.

It would be a shame to drink all of your Vintage Port in the first few years of its life in bottle – but perhaps as much a shame to not enjoy a bottle or two at every stage of its long life!

How Long Can I Keep an Open Bottle of Vintage Port?  Longer than you think – certainly longer than I used to think! Young Vintage Port is a very robust wine, and while exposure to oxygen will start it on the road to oxidation and fading, the process can take quite a while. Left on a counter at room temperature, an open bottle of young Vintage Port will slowly open and evolve, losing some if its primary fruit but often releasing other interesting flavors in its place. You’ll probably notice some change on the second and third days and then accelerating changes through day five. At some point, the wine will start to taste a little flat – but a full week of good drinking isn’t out of the question.

If you refrigerate the wine between servings, the time frame gets longer. Open a bottle, enjoy some on night one and then put it in the fridge at the end of the evening. Come back to it in a week – it will have evolved some, but still be full of fruit and vigor. The following week, less fruit but maybe some really interesting tar and earthiness. And, in week three, probably less compelling than at first … but still very tasty and fun!

Of course, the older the wine, the faster it will evolve with air, but in general, wines aged 20 years or less will hold up well even after they’ve been open a while.

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Have more questions? Send us an email or give us a call and we’ll do our best to help you out!

An Evening With Shane Finley

st. helena vineyards

“It takes a lot of beer to make great wine”

When I moved to Napa Valley in 2010 to learn about wine, I stumbled into a great part-time job at a St. Helena wine shop. Just as we do here at Chain Bridge Cellars, we gave free tastings Friday afternoons, but they were a little different. Because we had winemakers for neighbors, they poured for us, and as the newest and least experienced employee, I usually got the glassware and wine ready for the tasting.

Early on, a coworker asked me to run to the nearby Safeway to pick up beer. “For the winemaker – he likes Trumer or another nice, crisp Pilsner,” he said. Now, Jeff had a good sense of humor, so at first I thought he was having a little fun with me.  “Really?” I asked. “For the … winemaker?”

“Of course!” he said, looking at me as though I was even more clueless than he had originally thought. Turns out the saying “it takes a lot of beer to make great wine” exists for a reason, and I always kept the fridge stocked for tasting days. Every winemaker had their favorites, but they all wanted something crisp and unpretentious to sip while pouring and schmoozing, even (especially, actually) the ones making $100+ Cabernet.

Shane Finley is no different. When he almost sheepishly asked if he could have a beer as we were cleaning up from the tasting at the end of the night, it took me right back to those Friday night tastings in St. Helena.

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A name like Kosta Browne usually gets everyone’s attention, but there is more to Shane Finley than a few famous names on his resume (or his love of beer!). Like many of us in the wine industry, he is a refugee from a much more mainstream career – in his case as an insurance agent. In his mid-20s, having caught the wine bug, he quit his job in Manhattan to be a harvest intern and learn how to make wine. That he did, working harvests in California with Copain winery as well as at Domaine Pierre Gaillard in the Northern Rhone. When he agreed to come to our store to lead a tasting for the second year in a row, we were thrilled, and we were even more thrilled with how beautifully the wines showed.

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We started the evening with a splash of his Grenache Blanc, an unusual grape for California, but part of a growing movement we’re seeing there towards alternatives to the usual Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs. From Vermentino to Trousseau Gris, we’re thrilled with all this variety, and are excited that wines like this are finally making it out of the state! Shane’s Grenache Blanc has the high-toned, lemony snap of a great Picpoul de Pinet, but with much more ripeness and sophistication.

Then it was on to the Ma Fille Rose, named for Shane’s daughter. Refreshing and fun to drink, this is the kind of wine that gets guzzled first at parties, no matter what other impressive bottles are available.

Though his current day job at Lynmar has him making lots of Pinot Noir, he only makes one, The Charm, under his own label. The name is a nod to his Irish heritage, and a charming, ripe, unctuous Pinot it is.

Dueling Syrahs ended our tasting, both showing a different side of Shane’s approach to this classic and sometimes unappreciated grape.  His time in the Rhone inspired him to work with it, and his “The Villain” and Jemrose Syrahs were remarkably different.

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The differences between the two inspired quite a bit of discussion! The Villain showed the dark-fruited side of Syrah, and the delicious, liquorice-like flavors it can develop when fully ripe. The Jemrose Syrah showed a much earthier, grippier profile, and for many was the wine of the night. Grown in a cool area of Sonoma County, this Syrah was made with 100% whole-cluster fermentation, while the Villain only saw a portion. The additional contact with stems gave the wine fine, mouthwatering tannins that cried out for a piece of grilled lamb or steak. The cheese and charcuterie we had was delicious as usual, but for this wine, it didn’t cut it!

Thanks to Shane and the folks at Nice Legs for a wonderful, relaxed evening. We hope he decides to come back next year!

–Diane

What We’re Tasting: A Day of Surprises

Though we like to think of ourselves as seasoned, unbiased wine professionals, we do have a few prejudices.  Doug, for example, loves Carignan so irrationally that he can’t be trusted to taste it without a chaperone.  Diane and Randy love sparkling wine and Gamay so much that, left to their own devices, the store would consist of little else.

We’ve also got our dislikes, and can be a little dismissive of wines we’re sure we won’t like.  Today, two wines in our usual Tuesday onslaught of staff tastings stood out, not just because they were delicious wines, but because they were so surprising.  The first was a red Rhone-style blend from Grochau Cellars’ Washington State property that was an absolute dead ringer for something you’d find in the South of France.  We’ll be bringing it in soon, and it will surely find its way onto our tables at home as well.

The second really blew our minds, because we’ve all convinced ourselves that we just don’t like Pinotage.  This was not just Pinotage, but a Pinotage rose.  We were sure, looking at the price point and utilitarian label, that this was going to be a clunker.  We could not have been more wrong.  Keep an eye on your inboxes for news about this incredible South African rose.  It’s earned the use of that well-worn cliche: it’s a bargain at twice the price.