The Biodynamic Estate We've Been Waiting For - Wines from Montinore Estate in Oregon

When I first moved to Oregon after graduating from undergrad in Colorado in 2009, I lucked out with an internship at an amazing non-profit, the Oregon Environmental Council, working on a program that helped wineries become carbon neutral. It was a unique and exciting introduction to both the wine industry as a whole and the challenges they face in becoming more sustainable entities. I was only working part time as an independent contractor, about 20 hours a week at $12/hour, and as a result, didn't have any expendable income. I was able to taste a good amount of Oregon wine because of my everyday interactions with the wineries but I rarely had the luxury of being able to buy my own bottle. I spent a lot of time scouring wine shops and grocery stores for extreme deals and super sales (important note - I still do this today). My saving grace was the local selection from Montinore. If I got lucky, I could find a bottle of Montinore's 'Red Cap' pinot noir for $12-13, an insane steal back then and an equally good deal at $18-20 today. For this reason alone, Montinore is a special producer for me, but there are many others as well. 

 Montinore's 200 acre biodynamic estate in Oregon's Willamette Valley       © 2017 Montinore Estate

Montinore's 200 acre biodynamic estate in Oregon's Willamette Valley       © 2017 Montinore Estate

There is a lot of fuss in the wine world right now. While millenials have made great progress in de-stygmatizing the aura of pretentiousness around wine, making the beverage as popular as ever in the US, there is still too much specificity in our discussion and recommendations of wines. "This wine pairs PERFECTLY with grilled salmon," or, "this rosé should only be consumed on a 95-degree summer day in your hipster blow-up pool." Some wine rules and recommendations are helpful but these type of statements lead us inevitably toward a finicky and unsatisfactory experience because we are rarely, if ever, able to recreate the recommended scenario. These recommendations are intellectualisms that rarely have a place in the everyday enjoyment of wine. The solution to all of this jibber-jabber is to drink wines that are affordable, sustainable, and food-friendly. Versatile wines that don't require overthinking the occasion. Most of Europe's wine-producing countries had this figured out centuries ago but we are still working on it. And that's where we come back to Montinore. 

Montinore's Roots Collection of wines is the embodiment of versatility in domestic wine. High in acid and food-friendly but unique and full of character, each bottle delivers great value and an authenticity and transparency that is rare at this price point. If you want to ponder, there is plenty to wax philosophical about, but more importantly, these will pair effortlessly with the vast majority of food. And even better, the wines are produced by a family-owned, 100% biodynamic and organic estate that has been producing wine for almost 35 years in Oregon's Willamette Valley. There are maybe, just maybe, two or three similar producers in the US that can claim such credentials. Affordability, environmental sustainability, terroir-focused, and a damn fine story. This is what we need and this is why these wines kick ass. They are available in most major markets and if you haven't had the pleasure of tasting this fine juice, make an effort to seek them out. Reviews for each wine below!

 Montinore's Roots Collection - Pinot Noir, White Blend, and Pinot Gris

Montinore's Roots Collection - Pinot Noir, White Blend, and Pinot Gris

2015 Red Cap Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, Oregon
13.9% Alcohol
100% Pinot Noir
100% Certified Biodynamic + Organic

Before and during the recession of 2009, it was difficult to find any Oregon pinot noir for under $20. Some was available in Portland and Oregon markets, but it was largely non-existent and generally not very good. Oregon pinot noir was purely a premium product, and while it still is in many regards, the post-recession environment has required that most larger Oregon producers, and some smaller, offer an "entry-level" option. I can now find more than fifteen bottles in the Denver market that are under $20, some closer to $12, and I couldn't be happier. Montinore was well ahead of the game and was producing affordable and interesting Oregon pinot noir for under $20 far before the recession. 

2015 was one of the hottest seasons on record in the Willamette Valley with most wineries in the region picking their grapes earlier than ever before. That being said, September was remarkably cool and dry which allowed producers to pick whenever whenever they felt appropriate.  I tend to like more moderate vintages, such as 2010, 2011, and 2013, so I was a bit worried that Montinore's Red Cap pinot noir would be too alcoholic and ripe for my liking. Boy was I wrong. Somehow this winemaking team manages to produce a well-balanced, intriguingly complex, and Burgundian wine every year. I've been drinking Montinore wine consistently since 2008 and had multiple bottles of the Red Cap each year and this is one of the best.

Tasting note: Dark garnet in color with a heady nose of red and black cherry, dried fruits, dried flowers, baking spices (clove?), a pleasant earthiness and refined and well-integrated wood and cedar notes as well. Palate is energetic with healthy acidity and flavors that mimic the nose. Particularly well-balanced with the alcohol in-check and a medium finish. Despite alcohol pushing 14%, the wine is very fresh. Overall, one of the best $20 and under Oregon pinot noirs on the market. Where else can you get this kind of quality and typicity in a pinot noir for $20 and under? And it's biodynamic too (!!).

2016 Pinot Gris
Willamette Valley, Oregon
13.5% Alcohol
100% Pinot Gris
100% Certified Biodynamic + Organic

I've always thought it was odd that Oregon picked Pinot Gris as its premier white wine. I'm not alone in this sentiment. Chardonnay seems like a natural pick given pinot noir and chardonnay's ancestral home of Burgundy but it's also not difficult to make the claim that the riesling coming from some Oregon producers, like Trisaetum and Ovum, is as good as anything else in the world.  While I see pinot gris' market share decreasing over time in Oregon, pinot gris from the state has won me over as a consistently affordable, food-friendly, and generally interesting white wine. Aside from non-plunk pinot grigio from northern Italy and beefier exotic versions from Alsace, Oregon is making some of the best pinot gris in the world. This bottle from Montinore is a testament to what affordable pinot gris from the state can offer. At $16 or lower, it is a steal. 

Tasting notes: Heavy dose of fresh citrus stone fruit with a hint of lees aging. You can tell that it has some heft to it but is still light on its feet. The palate is lively and energetic with more citrus, yeasty components from the lees aging, and some mild melon notes. Medium bodied and super friendly but somehow manages some richness to it which I've found characteristic of most Oregon pinot gris. Finish is relatively short but overall a great bargain.

 Sexy bottle, sexy wine

Sexy bottle, sexy wine

Borealis 'The Great Northern Whites' Non-Vintage
Willamette Valley, Oregon
12.3% Alcohol - 1.6% residual sugar
38% M
üller-Thurgau, 32% Gewürztraminer, 19% Riesling, 11% Pinot Gris
100% Certified Biodynamic + Organic

The new label on this bottle is killer. I hope a similar rebranding occurs on the other bottles. Secondly, this is the type of wine we need more of in the US.... $15 wines that are food-friendly, biodynamic/organic, low alcohol, and interesting. And third, don't fear an off-dry bottle of wine. A long history in this country of crappy German riesling and sappy white Zinfandel from California's Central Valley has forced us millenials to ask - is it sweet? - as our first question to the server at many establishments. But this wine only holds 1.6% residual sugar and I think is better for it. 

If there was ever a bottle of domestic white wine made for pairing with Asian cuisines, this is it (very similar and equally good is Sokol Blosser's Evolution White). The Borealis is a non-vintage blend of four grapes with Pinot Gris being the smallest portion. The Müller-Thurgau, Gewürztraminer, and Riesling bring a riper, more exotic and floral profile to the wine and the very mild hint of residual sugar is... yes, a welcome addition. 

Tasting note: More exotic nose than the 100% Pinot Gris with a freshness that will make your mouth start watering before it even touches your lips. Notes of honeysuckle, lychee, kiwi, orange blossom, melon, stone fruit, could go on and on. Very inviting. Palate is high in acid, lively as shit, with just a kiss of sweetness and flavors that mimic the nose with a load of citrus and richness to it that is surprising. Because of the exotic notes on the nose and palate, it tastes sweeter than it is. This wine needs food and food needs this wine.



Rules + Guzzle-Worthy Recommendations - THANKSGIVING 2017

Several years ago I posted my first 'Thanksgiving Wine Public Service Announcement'. Friends and followers alike seemed to appreciate the practical recommendations and general approach. I decided to do a repost but modify it a bit. I've included some of my original "rules" for drinking wine with Thanksgiving but I've tweaked them a bit and also included some more detailed bottle-specific recommendations for each course.

So here it is, my guide to pairing wine with Thanksgiving festivities. I'm generally not a fan of "rules" for drinking wine but I will say... if you follow all of these, you are guaranteed to have a revelatory wine and food paring on the greatest food holiday in America.

1) First and foremost, drink wine that you like (duh) but buy a variety of different bottles and include something you've never heard of in the mix

2) WINE IS FOOD TOO. Look for sustainably-grown certifications like organic and biodynamic and support small wineries and independent wine shops. 

3) Focus on lower alcohol wines under 14.5% but more in the 12.5-13.5% range

4) Best varietals
Red: pinot noir, gamay, cab franc, zinfandel, barbera, corvina (!), nerello mascalese
White: chardonnay, riesling (dry or off-dry), pinot blanc, viognier, chenin blanc

Recommendations: ANY Oregon pinot noir, Scaia corvina, Clos de la Roilette Fleurie, Willakenzie Pinot Blanc, Bedrock Wine. Co. Old Vine Zinfandel, OVUM riesling (MY GOD - best wines on this list), Broc Cellars Love White, anything from Division Wine Co..

5) Start the day/meal with some bubbly or rose or pink bubbly (real Champagne if you can afford it), transition to a white or light red, and then go to the pint noir, zinfandel, or barbera to pair with the main course.

Recommendations: May Georges Cremant de Loire ($20), Gruet 'Sauvage' ($20), or Champagne Agrapart '7 Crus'

6) Don't try to pair one wine with one dish. Let's be real, it's a free-for-all shit show once the meal starts so find wines that are generally food-friendly (lower alcohol and higher in acid) and will pair well with a variety of dishes

7) Screw wine altogether and drink either 1) Bourbon/Whiskey 2) dry cider or 3) Belgian red/sour/krief beers. A few of my favorite ciders are produced by Stem Ciders in Denver and Finn River outside of Seattle. Both produce a wonderfully dry and mildly hopped cider that would do well with any food you throw at it. There are too many Bourbons but there are so many independent distilleries producing amazing bottles, you should start there (Koval, Journeyman, Breckenridge, Laws Whiskey House, Old Town Distillery). Belgian-style red ales are now widely produced across the US. A few of the best breweries are Cascade Brewing in Portland, Lost Abbey in San Marcos, California, Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City, and Crooked Stave Artisans in Denver/Fort Collins. 

 Mmmm... a sip of amaro a day will keep the doctor away

Mmmm... a sip of amaro a day will keep the doctor away

8) To assist with the digestion of your disgustingly excessive level of food in your body, try sipping on some amaro or similar digestif post-meal. Amaro's infusion of herbs puts your digestive system into overdrive. It also happens to taste really good and pairs well with traditional Thanksgiving flavors. My favorite: Montenegro Amaro. 

9) Don't forget to keep drinking wine with leftovers the day after - turkey sandwiches with pinot noir is just as good as the fancier stuff you ate the day before

10) Always keep grandma's wine glass full

Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving!