Category Archives: Taste

Non-Vintage Wines: Broadening the Palate

Non-vintage (NV) wine does not resonate widely in our brave, New World wines. This old world technique allows winemakers to blend multiple vintages for added nuance and character, but usually remains a tool of the bubbly and fortified wine makers only–Port and Champagne particularly. Thankfully, J. Bookwalter Winery of Washington has deftly translated this technique to create a dry red blend, Notebook 4NV (their 4th non-vintage Notebook Red). Bookwalter Winery creates this blend to use up their excess juice after crafting their premier wines. However, Bookwalter’s excess is another vigneron’s treasure.

At $15 msrp, and frequently found at $9-$12, Bookwalter has set the bar high at this reasonable price point. Dusty raspberry and blueberry fills the mouth, and a fine layer of tannins rounds together the finish nicely. Upon drinking, you quickly realize something sets this wine apart. Fresh fruit aromatics and dusty gravel road, vibrant youth and raisined age. J. Bookwalter Winery makes the case emphatically for the accessibility and layered complexity of NV blends. This has instantly become a go to wine for me, and I look forward to tasting Notebook 5NV and beyond. Hopefully more wineries will explore NV winemaking, especially boutique wineries tempted to sell off excess juice to the mass-crush facilities for the sake of convenience. Perhaps they are intimidated by this deft execution. I would be.

Bombs Away: Syrah in the Willamette

As mentioned in my last post, I have two significant memories from my summer of tasting through the Willamette Valley. Stoller Family Estate provides the second provocative impression. After tasting through six wines at Stoller, all truly respectable, I find myself wanting more. . . syrah from the Willamette Valley.

Stoller’s Single Acre Estate Syrah brought one eye brow up, and forced a second glance at the label. Syrah from the Willamette? Syrah brings most minds to the hot climes of the world–the Hunter Valley of Australia or the much closer Wahluke Slope of Washington. Unfortunately, these warm locations can too often create fruit bombs lacking complexity, balance, or length. Stoller’s syrah, however, balanced beautifully with acid and medium weight, while looming large enough to show classic syrah spice and fruit. If this single experiment from Stoller does not convince, perhaps the Northern Rhone should, as the climates of both valleys share plenty of similarities if you choose the vineyard site appropriately. Remember, the Northern Rhone borders Burgundy, the epicenter of Pinot Noir. Wineries with lower elevation, south-facing acreage within the Willamette Valley, like Stoller Family Estate, take note. Bombs away–balance and perspective rise up. Perhaps this message should carry beyond the caves and cellars to the halls of capitals.

While you’re beating down the doors of those in power, pick up a bottle of 2013 Pinot Noir Rose from Stoller Family Estate as well. I have tasted a good plenty of roses from a plethora of grape varieties from Wa-gon country, and this takes the cake. Delicious.

*Newcomers, Wa-gon = Washington and Oregon

Chapter 24 Vineyards–a Luscious Welcome

Courtesy of Chapter 24 Vineyards

Steph, my spouse, and I relocated to Portland, Oregon in June. Steph is a Portland native, and we are both thrilled to be back in the northwest where we met. I have many passions that Oregon can reward–wine rises high on the list. Summer weekends spent in the tasting rooms and wineries of the Willamette Valley left me with two very notable memories. Today will focus on the first.

Chapter 24 Vineyards is a relative newcomer to Oregon. “Though she be but little (and new), she is fierce!” Fierce for the sheer force of their four wine line up from their 2012 vintage–Two Messengers ($30), The Fire ($60), The Flood ($60), and The Last Chapter ($90). Pinot Noir rarely inspires the use of the words fierce and force, but these words are directed at the accomplishments of Chapter 24 Vineyards. The Last Chapter has all the elements of a deeply beautiful, memorable pinot noir–elegance, balance, and length swirl their way into your psyche. I melted after smelling the wine alone. I continue to swoon.


One of the collaborators for this producer, Mike Etzel, is the son of Beaux Freres head wine maker. Consequently, Chapter 24 has access to some premium fruit from multiple vineyard sites. Great fruit speaks for itself, particularly with Pinot Noir, and speak it does with The Fire, The Flood, and The Last Chapter. 


While their core three wines speak profoundly for themselves, Two Messengers stands tall against other entry-level bottles by producers in the Willamette Valley. Wine makers show their talent with their lowest tier wines, as they are almost always working with less than ideal fruit. Chapter 24 pulls off a clean sweep with their line up by starting your tasting with this classic, pleasurable Willamette pinot. 


Finally, kudos to the Chapter 24 team for their ingenious marketing plan, which names wines after the geologic soil types of particular vineyard sites–The Fire from the volcanic, higher elevation sites, and The Flood from the lower elevation sites formed by the Missoula Floods. Notably, these wines do not and cannot claim specific AVA designations, as they span multiple AVAs within the larger Willamette Valley AVA; however, they are largely sourced from highly respected sub-appellations within the Willamette Valley. 


Add Chapter 24 to the top of your list. It will not disappoint.