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January 2009

January 26, 2009

Willamette Valley Vineyards' 2006 Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir

Willamette Valley Vineyards
2006 Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir

Willamette Valley, Oregon

Willamette Valley Vineyards began as the dream of Jim Bernau, a visionary who purchased an overgrown plum orchard in Oregon’s verdant valley in the early 1980s with the hopes of creating world class Pinot Noir. Today, Willamette Valley Vineyards is considered one of the top Pinot Noir producers in the United States. However, success didn’t come overnight. Years of study, not to mention trial and error, honed Bernau’s skills and shaped his philosophy for producing boutique, handcrafted wines. The winery’s primary goal is to create quality Pinot Noir reflective of Oregon’s terroir. One taste of the winery’s 2006 Estate Pinot and it is clear that the goal has been achieved. The 2006 vintage offers bright acidity along with flavors that reflect Oregon’s bounty of tart berries, such as red currant, blackberry and loganberry. Yet echoing the Willamette terroir, the wine offers tannic structure and underlying earthy flavors, including wild mushrooms, pine forest and truffles. If this Pinot has one flaw, it is that the wine’s delicious aromas and flavors are slightly overshadowed by the scent and effects of alcohol—at 14.5 percent, the alcohol content is definitely a little higher than we like to see in a Pinot. Try it with a meal of wild game with berry sauce, or serve it with a course of hard cheeses like aged cheddar and gouda.

Rating: 13.5/20
Price: $40

Other Pinot Noir we have tasted
Check out our guide to Oregon
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January 19, 2009

Ehlers Estate's 2005 Estate Merlot

Ehlers Estate
2005 Estate Merlot

St. Helena, California

Founded by French entrepreneur Jean Leducq, Ehlers Estate is more than just another Napa Valley vineyard—it is a philanthropic endeavor. After Leducq's death in 2002, the winery’s ownership passed to the Leduqc Foundation, a non-profit organization that funds cardiovascular research worldwide. One hundred percent of the proceeds from Ehlers wine sales are donated directly to the foundation. Not surprisingly, considering the origins of the winery’s founder, Ehlers Estate wines tend toward an Old World style. Production, beginning in 2000 with a Cabernet, has grown under current winemaker Rudy Zuidema to include the classic Bordeaux varietals: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Petit Verdot. The 2005 Merlot is far more Right Bank than right next to Calistoga. Despite the vineyard’s location in St. Helena, this Merlot is deliciously tart with great acidity, aided by 2005’s cool growing season. An addition of fifteen percent Cabernet Sauvignon keeps the wine from astringency, and adds richness and complexity. Fine-grain tannins make it an easy drinking selection, well suited to pleasing a crowd. Serve it with an elegant dinner of roast duckling or a less formal chicken stew.

Rating: 14/20
Price: $45

Other Merlot we have tasted
Check out our guide to California
For more information, visit

January 12, 2009

Helfrich's 2005 Gewürztraminer Grand Cru

2005 Steinklotz Gewürztraminer Grand Cru

Alsace, France

For six generations, the Helfrich family has prospered in the business of making fine wines. A noted producer in the Alsace region, Helfrich produces a variety of bottlings using the classic, cool-climate varietals: Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. The family-owned and operated winery’s approach is minimalist, allowing the grapes of their centuries-old vineyards to shine. Helfrich’s Gewürztraminer Grand Cru is a prime example of their minimalist philosophy. The wine’s bouquet, one of its finest features, consists of pure wildflower and honey aromas. On the palate, the grapes’ minerality is dominant, allowing the region’s predominantly limestone and sandstone terroir to stand out. Although the wine lacks a little of the spice that gives Gewürztraminer its exotic appeal, its elegant structure more than compensates for any shortcomings in flavor, making it an attractive partner for shellfish dishes, a plate of soft, ripe cheeses or lightly sweetened fruit desserts. Additionally, the Grand Cru’s lively acidity makes this sophisticated Gewürztraminer an appealingly fresh choice for an aperitif.

Rating: 13.5/20
Price: $24

Other Gewürztraminer we have tasted
Check out our guide to France
For more information, visit

January 5, 2009

Messina Hof's 2005 Paulo Shiraz

Messina Hof Wine Cellars
2005 Paulo Shiraz


True to the saying, at Messina Hof they do everything big. A visit to the property is like taking in the entire Napa Valley in a one-stop shop. There’s a vineyard and winery, bed and breakfast, and restaurant and wine bar on the 100-acre parcel. Messina Hof, which was founded in 1977 by husband and wife team Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo, produces a wide range of wines including Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Port. The best grapes go into the Paulo line of wines which, depending on the vintage, include a Bordeaux blend, Cabernet Sauvignon, Port, Shiraz and Merlot. The Paulo Shiraz is far more restrained of a wine than one would expect from Texas. Beautifully balanced, its flavors include sweet blackberries and tangy cranberries with just a hint of vanilla, pepper and wet earth on the finish. It would make a handsome partner for hearty, winter meat dishes with a little kick of spice. The wine’s one peculiarity is its distinctly petrol aroma, an unusual characteristic for a red yet appropriately reflects the region’s unique terroir.

Rating: 13/20
Price: $44

Other Syrah/Shiraz we have tasted
Check out our guide to Texas
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