Thursday, September 24, 2009

Watch Out, Willamette Valley

There's a new gal in town and she's a knockout. Sleek and ultracool, she's not only a dream but an eco-minded natural to boot. She oozes class with drop-dead looks that are built for punishment and pleasure. What's more, she's femmy without being girly and just butch enough to keep the guys at attention and poised for more. And, since this is a wine blog, did we mention she turns out phat food and knows her wine?

Her name is The Allison Inn & Spa and she's the Willamette Valley's first luxury resort. Built along the foothills of Newberg's Chehalem Mountains, the clean, green and lean Allison occupies 35 hillside acres surrounded by Yamhill County's bounty of vineyards, orchards and rich farmland.

We were lucky to catch The Allison's mid-September grand opening celebration, and what a party it was. Before we toured the 85-room resort, we sampled sips from Oregon winemakers in outdoor tents that featured local artists and winemakers. David Adelsheim, who had a hand in planting The Allison's on-premises vineyards, poured his excellent wines. We gave high fives to lesser-knowns such as Natalie's Estate Winery, which seeks to also master the un-Pinot, Syrah. Inside, it was a feast of artisan cheeses, charcuterie and more Oregon wines, including the highly decorated Domaine Serene.

Here's what you need to know: First of all, she's not a cheap date. Is she worth the splurge? Answer, yes, no hesitation. The grounds cover winding footpaths, remarkable vistas, stonewalled herb and vegetable gardens and an infinity-style indoor pool. The spacious deluxe rooms seduce you into serenity with gas fireplaces, beds comfy enough to loll around in all morning (at least) and special touches such as retractable shades for your bath and lighting to bring out your inner supermodel or stud-monkey.

Wander outside your room to visit the glorious spa with copper touches (we liked the ultracool copper-toned chain mesh curtain), stone fireplaces and mingle areas, a glass-enclosed spiral staircase, blond-highlighted wood flooring and more textures than you can touch or take in during a single visit.

Hungry? The Allison's Jory Restaurant, named in honor of Willamette Valley's fertile soils, dishes out seasonal produce from Oregon farms and gardens in a 6,000 square-foot setting with open kitchen and additional outdoor terrace dining. Wine and spirits feature the Pacific Northwest's microbrews and Oregon's outstanding wines with special touches such as "Women Winemakers We Love."

The Allison's 45-minute-drive from Portland and easy access to more than 200 Oregon wineries makes the resort ideally situated for wine travel and exploration. Its 12,000 square-foot meeting facilities can accommodate groups from ten to 400 lucky guests. Gotta golf? Pull out your irons to tackle the 18-hole Chehalem Glenn course. History your bag? Head to nearby McMinnville's Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum to visit the Spruce Goose and other heritage planes. Need cold, er, cool ocean breezes? Grab your fleece to take in the Oregon Coast, only 63 miles away. Our opinion: Stay put and enjoy the ride.

We see The Allison as Willamette Valley's transformational property, much as Auberge du Soleil ushered in a new era in Napa and California's wine tourism when the now-famed resort opened its doors in 1985, four years after its inaugural restaurant introduced visitors to wine country cuisine.

If Oregon Pinot Noir and luxury travel floats your boat, there's only one thing to do: Go. Now. For a homier Willamette Valley experience, we're still partial to the Carlton Inn. Either way, there's plenty of great wine to taste, soul-satisfying food to eat and plenty of peace to experience among nature's greatest gifts. She's a beauty.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Revelations: Your Wine Palate

The sooner you learn to make sense of your wine palate, the sooner you'll be drinking wines you truly enjoy instead of those that just don't do it for you. A fun and efficient way to discover what tastes and textures you like best is to participate in a guided wine tasting. For the 15 ladies who attended such a tutorial last night, it was like finding true love.

The wine boss laid down a few ground rules: Arrive on time with a clean palate and an open mind; perfume verboten. After a few tips, an unoaked, stainless-steel fermented Oregon Chardonnay led off with clean stone fruit flavors, light-to-medium body and crisp acidity. While a few ladies wrinkled their cute noses, others wished for shrimp cocktail. Next, a California chard offered toasty oak flavors, tropical fruit and a creamy, heavier body. Noses unwrinkled, others dumped. All good – the palates are coming out.

A surprise Argentine white opened up a bouquet of floral aromas for the exotic-minded set. Eyebrows went up as noses buried into tasting glasses for long, deep breaths. By now, palates were definitely awake and frisky.

Wine Boss figured they were ready for the rosé challenge. One sip of this Provençal palate-pleaser busted the wine chauvinism of those ladies brave enough to admit rosé prejudice. Who could resist its red fruit and strawberry flavors with a hint of mint and food-friendly acidity?

Ready for red, the bright fruit lovers swooned for a Central Coast Pinot Noir's cherry scents and gorgeous color. Their sharper and savvier palates were tickled to pick up the wine's cinnamon spice and soft mouthfeel. Now we're talkin'!

Onward to a Paso Robles Syrah, which nearly silenced the group. After all that red-fruited wine, the women zeroed in on the wine's dark-fruited flavors, peppery spice and subtle tones of leather and earth. The wine mojo was swelling as the group busily jotted notes between bites of aged Gouda and treats Wine Boss served to match, not mask, each wine.

The closer red from Argentina was a mouth-filling hedonist's delight of smooth mocha and blackberry flavors. We didn't spot too many spitters or dumpers for this one either. Some ladies went back to Syrah while others double-checked that they'd actually enjoyed a rosé by going back for more. A roomful of palates had been revealed.

Because the ladies had done so well to identify different wine flavors, textures and characteristics they liked or didn't – and why – Boss brought out a final delicacy: Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, a fortified wine to weaken the knees of the staunchest dessert wine refuse-nik. More surprise, more converts, case closed.

The evening was a success all-around with great camaraderie, learning and discovery. The Girlfriend Factor's scholarship fund was enriched and the ladies went home understanding a whole new world right inside their pretty mouths: their wine palates, understood, accepted and primed for more.

Curious to try this on your own? Here's the list of tasting wines from wine shops and grocers around town that range from about $6-20 per bottle. Click on any wine to learn more:

2007 A to Z Oregon Chardonnay
2008 Bouchon California Chardonnay
2008 Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontés
2008 Chateau Routas Rosé
2006 Cambria Pinot Noir, Julia's Vineyard
2006 Robert Hall Paso Robles Syrah
2005 Zolo Malbec Reserva
2007 André Andrieux Muscat de Beaumes de Venise


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

September is California Wine Month

Give a toast to the business behind the libation as the Golden State celebrates California Wine Month during the harvest month of September. Governor Schwarzenegger's proclamation recognizes the importance of the state's wine industry to California's economy and families, not to mention the global reach of California wines.

With so much attention focused on wine's pleasures, it's easy to lose sight of wine's importance as an industry. We were amazed by these remarkable facts about California wine, which make our beverage of choice even more awesome:

• California accounts for 90% of all wine produced in the United States.
• California is the world's fourth-largest wine producer.
• California wine generates $18.5 billion in domestic retail wine sales.
• California wine industries generate 820,000 jobs nationwide.
• The national economic impact of California's wine industry is $121.8 billion with an impact of $61.5 billion on the state's economy.
• Family-owned and operated businesses comprise the majority of the state's 4,600 winegrape growers and 2,800 wineries.
• California winegrowing began in 1769 with Father Junipero Serra and the Franciscan monks.
• California has 108 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) with winegrapes grown in 46 of the state's 58 counties.
• California leads the nation in wine tourism with more than 20 million tourists visiting the state's winemaking regions yearly.
• California wine is the leading finished agricultural product in the country, even though less than 1% of California land is planted to vineyards.
• California wine drives the popularity and reach of "wine culture," evidenced in part by winemaking ventures in all 50 states.
• Women and immigrants have played pivotal roles in the development and growth of California wine.
• California is a leader stateside and abroad in wine innovation, quality, science, entrepreneurship, and sustainable winegrowing and winemaking.
• California wine country's top chefs comprise the vanguard of America's culinary revolution with their focus on fresh, seasonal and regional cuisine.


Impressed? We were, and that's with nary a mention of how North American rootstock saved the European wine industry from devastation by the Phylloxera pest.

Many valley eateries are celebrating California Wine Month with wine specials. Mindy at Zin American Bistro has specials on many wines from her exotic wine list. All Roy's Restaurants have special wine promotions this month, including our Roy's in Rancho Mirage. And in case you missed our sold-out bash at Piero's Acqua Pazza last month, you can cruise by any Monday night this month for 50% off regularly priced wines by the bottle or glass.

Call your favorite watering hole to ask about their California Wine Month specials. Local stores participating in the celebration include Vons, Pavilions and Costco locations in California.

Now get busy making us the #1 wine market in the world!