9/27/2023 — Columbia Gorge from a Burgundy winemaker, plus Garnacha bargain alert!

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Hi everyone –

Firstly, thanks to everyone who supported last week’s Syrocco offer, which generated over $1100 for the High Atlas Foundation for earthquake relief in Morocco. Thank you!!!

This week, we feature four wines that are simply outstanding and entirely under the radar. Three of them are from a micro-producer in the Columbia Gorge region of Washington/Oregon, and the fourth is a bargain Grenache from a specialist.

Let’s get to it!

2019 Proyecto Garnachas Salvaje del Moncayo (bargain alert)

The Garnachas Project (“Proyecto Garnachas”) is fully focused on one of our favorite varieties, Grenache, producing six different wines that celebrate the range of styles that Grenache is capable of.

There are small pockets of ancient Garnacha vines throughout Spain, often planted soon after phylloxera became better understood (so we’re talking the early 1900s).

During the economic hardships of the 1950s-80s, many families pulled these old vines out of the ground to plant different varieties for higher yields. The story of the Proyecto Garnachas group begins with one of these vineyards, which the son fought with the father to keep in the ground. After the father acquiesced, the Proyecto Garnachas was born.

There are now six wines in their lineup. I had never heard of this project or brand before until running across it in a wholesaler’s warehouse this past Monday. One taste, and I knew we had a winner.

Slate and pebble soils (well drained), old vines, hand harvesting, a bit of high-quality oak aging, and you end up with a stunning wine (with a cool label) for FAR LESS money than you’d expect.

This isn’t Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Gigondas. This isn’t the brawny, deep, age-worthy Grenache of the point chasers.

What this IS is true-on-point, accurate, DELICIOUS, GULPABLE, sassy, spicy, raspberry-packed Grenache that will make everyone who tastes it happy.

They’ve reined it into 14.5% alcohol, which indicates attention-to-detail winemaking. (Grenache is well known for a ‘sugar bloom’ ahead of harvest, and out-of-control styles quickly hit 15-16% ABV.)

In a big way, this reminds me of the best vintages of Perrin Côtes-du-Rhône, which is a huge compliment for Grenache-based wines in general, for Perrin is arguably the top producer that most have heard of. The cherry-meets-raspberry-meets-rosemary is off the hook on this wine.

I love this. And it’s at a stock-up for the winter price.

Three Wines from Phelps Creek

Who? Read on. This is a very cool, and very small producer.

Intro to the Columbia Gorge AVA

Let’s start with maps and stunning photos of this AVA, which straddles the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington, just east of Portland.

Photo from SevenFifty Daily. Check out their exceptional article on the Columbia Gorge: https://daily.sevenfifty.com/experimentation-abounds-in-the-columbia-gorge/

The Columbia Gorge is unknown to most consumers, and several reasons exist. First, the closest major city is Portland, but most wine lovers flying into Portland go southwest towards Willamette Valley. Second, between Portland, the Tri-Cities, and Seattle, plus built-in summer tourism, the Gorge does a pretty good job of selling through its products — there’s no need for many distributors to send their wines to the rest of the country. Third, the Gorge is a purgatory of sorts. You can find Pinot Noirs on the western side. You can find Chardonnays all over. You can find Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons on drier and hotter the eastern side. You can even find Sangiovese and Nebbiolo in certain pockets. There is a little bit of everything, so an identity is hard to pin down. Ask most wine lovers what grape the Columbia Gorge is best known for, and you’ll get as many answers as people you ask.

Phelps Creek Vineyards

Established in 1990, Phelps Creek Vineyards is a 5000-case production winery. That production level is important … it’s big enough to have a brand, have a tasting room, and pay a few employees. But that’s about it. When you’re located in the Columbia Gorge, with enough tourism and wine-curious locals nearby to buy your wine, you can make it at 5,000 cases per year.

Often wineries of this size don’t hit distribution in other markets. I don’t know how many states Phelps Creek is available in, but I bet not many.

Their secret weapon: In 2007, they hired Alexandrine Roy, a winemaker from Burgundy. She continues to live in and make wine in Burgundy but flies out 3 or 4 times a year to make the wines at Phelps Creek. It’s extremely rare to have a situation like this. The one best known for racking up the same frequent flier miles would be Veronique Drouhin at Domaine Drouhin Oregon.

A Burgundy sensibility and touch can be found in all three of these wines. They are awesome.

Click here to read the whole story of Phelps Creek Vineyards.

A quick overview of these wines

All three of these are stunning. Like stop-me-in-my-tracks stunning. But read the notes before you buy. I want to make sure they are right for you.

Phelps Creek “Underwood Mountain” Riesling 2021

I’m a huge fan of great Riesling, as many of you know, and if you’re inclined to keep scrolling while thinking, “I don’t like sweet wine, ” please pause, take a breath, and stay with me here.

This is not overtly sweet Riesling.

Nor is it bone dry Riesling. It’s 10.5% ABV.

It’s that rare perfect harmony that flies like a bird of flavor while doing cartwheels and singing. Seriously, it’s that good. And while enjoying it with the right food, you can have a transcendental experience.

The right food is a long list indeed. Anything German (ham and potatoes). Anything Mexican (OMG, this would be great with tacos). Anything Purivian (okay, I can’t think of a Peruvian dish, but you get the idea). And especially anything Asian, especially simple dishes that pack a punch of flavor, like this:

Jason’s tasting note: Phelps Creek Vineyards Riesling 2021, 10.1% ABV. Apple pear and petrol on the nose, along with pure lime lemon acid kick. Starts off like a cozy fall day that gets super bright and a bit summery. Stunning aromas of lime pith and mango (a kiss) along with gardenia blossom. Taste is a complete package with no dip. Wow. Sweetness is perfectly balanced by acids and doesn’t come across overtly sweet at all. Had with pork spareribs with a dusting of spice, and it was outstanding. WOW! 

Phelps Creek “Le Petit” Pinot Noir 2021

490 cases produced, whole cluster fermentation.

If you’re curious about, or a fan of, whole cluster fermentation, then this is a must-buy. It’s delicious.

But if you’re not a fan of whole cluster in general, I’m still encouraging you to buy this.

I’ll be honest: I’m not the biggest fan of whole cluster, but this wine has changed my thinking quite a bit.

What is whole cluster all about? It’s a winemaking technique in which whole clusters of grapes, including stems, are tossed into the tank. The weight crushes the bottom layer, which begins fermentation and releases CO2. Shortly, the CO2 envelops the grapes above, which starts an internal fermentation until the skins collapse.

The result is a particular style that is cranberry-packed in bright aromatics and high-toned in acidity. And this is one of the best examples of whole cluster I’ve had in a long time.

Food pairings? This is particularly good with salmon, for the higher acid style slays through the fats.

Phelps Creek “Cuvee Alexandrine” Pinot Noir 2019

I’ll start with my tasting note:

*Phelps Creek Pinot Noir “Cuvee Alexandrine” 2019, 13.3% ABV, Hood River Oregon, Columbia Gorge

Holy moly. Wowza. Bigtime Burgundy aromas on this one. Earth, leather, spice, incredible balance on the first pass. First taste: very very very harmonious and good. This is serious wine. Far more Burgundian than anything out of the Columbia Gorge that I’ve ever had. Top notch. Very Volnay meets Santenay (village-level, not Premier Cru).

This is one of the best West Coast Pinot Noirs I’ve had this year. The winemaker’s talents are showcased on this beauty, with the most Burgundian aromas I’ve had in years from an Oregon wine. For true Burgundy fans, the delicacy of a Volnay and the forwardness of Santenay are what this wine reminds me of. Maybe a bit of Morey-Saint-Denis as well. In other words, there is an amazing lacy quality to this wine that weaves together in fascinating ways.

I’ve never had a Pinot Noir made outside of Burgundy by a Burgundy winemaker that reminded me so much of Burgundy!

Food pairings: the wine is the showcase here. Don’t complicate it. Great cheeses and a little bit of cured meat is all this wine needs.

Also, if you’re a fan of bigger, over-the-top, richer, and darker Pinot Noirs (ala Domaine Serene), don’t buy this. You won’t like it.

Buying advice

These are four outstanding wines that serve different purposes.

Obviously, the Garnacha is a stock-up style of wine, perfect for fall and early winter enjoyment.

The Phelps Creek wines are all so different but of equally high quality across the board. I’ll offer them individually but also as a three-pack to get a sense of the winemaker’s style. The three-pack, if served together at a dinner with friends, will amaze you with the variety around the table.

Thank you, everyone! We couldn’t do this without you!

Jason Kallsen
Sommelier and founder/owner of Twin Cities Wine Education

Offer and special pricing are available through Monday, or as inventory lasts

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