One of my favorite things about the Wine Bloggers Conference is that attendees have the opportunity to visit nearby wine country. This year's Wine Bloggers Conference was held in Portland, Ore., and being a finalist and winner of the Best New Wine Blog award during the conference gave me the privilege of being invited on some incredible pre- and post-conference tours. One of these tours was a tasting and lunch with sky high views at Youngberg Hill Vineyard Estate and Inn.
As soon as I spotted the Youngberg Hill Inn at the top of the vineyards, which immediately reminded me of childhood summers spent on Martha's Vineyard, I knew my fellow wine bloggers and I were in for a treat. Once our group was inside the Inn and had our first look at the view from the deck, the word 'breathtaking' was echoed throughout the room where we all stood. Owner Wayne Bailey got right down to business and started pouring samples of wine while sharing the Youngberg Hill story with us.
The first wine we tasted was the 2011 Aspen Pinot Gris. Named after his youngest of three daughters, the Aspen Pinot Gris opens up with gorgeous tropical fruit aromas of pineapple and grapefruit. On the palate, pineapple and stone fruit are rounded out with a solid acidic backbone that creates a long, smooth finish. Light-bodied, crisp and refreshing, this Pinot Gris is the perfect outdoor summer sipper.
The next wine in line was the 2011 Pinot Blanc. Since Youngberg Hill vineyards consists of three blocks of Pinot Noir and one block of Pinot Gris, the grapes for their Pinot Blanc are sourced from a vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA of Oregon - this is the only wine produced by Youngberg Hill where the fruit is sourced from another vineyard. I absolutely loved this Pinot Blanc. Aromas and flavors of crisp pears and lemon-lime zest immediately awaken the senses. Much like the Pinot Gris, this wine is crisp and refreshing, yet it's medium-bodied with a silky, velvety mouthfeel. A new bar has been set for Oregon Pinot Blancs, one of my favorite varietals, and it will be tough to find one as good as Youngberg Hill's.
After the two whites, it was time to move on to the first of three Pinot Noirs, starting with the light ruby colored 2009 Estate Pinot Noir. Aromas of cranberries filled the bowl of the Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glass - there's nothing like having a fine Oregon Pinot Noir poured into the proper stemware. Flavors of cranberries, cherries and cloves were rounded out by a lustrous acidic finish.
The 2009 Natasha Pinot Noir, named after one of the other Bailey daughters, has a darker hue than the Estate Pinot Noir, and the baked cherry and cranberry aromas instantly reminded me of Thanksgiving. Light- to medium-bodied on the palate, Bing cherries and bright berries along with a slight hint of rhubarb (a tangy vegetable often used in pies) finish off with an earthy, slightly spicy finish. From the initial bright fruit aromas to the earthy finish, I could imagine that this would be the perfect wine alongside a roasted turkey and all of the traditional Thanksgiving sides.
The 2008 Jordan Pinot Noir, also named after one of their daughters, was the last wine to sample in the fabulous line-up that Wayne Bailey had prepared for the wine bloggers wine tasting. Since I've been known to love many of the '08 Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs, I had a feeling this would be my favorite of the three. Beautiful blackberry and ripe currants filled the bowl of the wine glass along with hints of dark cherries and raisin. On the palate, the mouthfeel was luxurious, silky and smooth. Seamless flavors of blackberries, plum, earth and pie spice offered a full, well-rounded, perfectly balanced and long lasting finish. This was most definitely my kind of Pinot Noir.
After the wine tasting, we followed Wayne Bailey into two adjoining dining rooms with floor to ceiling windows that offered gorgeous views of the vineyards, valley and surrounding mountain ranges. We took our seats just in time for well-known Chef Christoher Czarnecki, of the famed Joel Palmer House, to introduce himself along with the three-course lunch menu he prepared for the wine bloggers luncheon.
We started with the beautiful Cucumber Lemon Balm and Tomato Pickle Ginger Vegan Gazpacho, which were two soups magnificently separated into one bowl. Each of the soups could be tasted separately or swirled together to combine all the mouthwatering flavors. Chef Czarnecki topped the Gazpacho with edible Marigold petals and paired it with the Youngberg Hill 2011 Pinot Blanc. This was one of the best pairings I've ever had - all the complex flavors somehow seamlessly flowed together in perfect harmony. Elegantly ambrosial.
The main course was a Russian-style Beef Tenderloin Stroganoff served over rice with Porcini and Trumpet mushrooms paired with the 2009 Natasha Pinot Noir. Any previous negative association I had with Beef Stroganoff has dissipated - this was outstanding. The super creamy, mushroomy sauce and perfectly cooked tenderloin melted in my mouth and were incredibly delicious. The earthy finish of the Natasha Pinot Noir complemented the earthy flavors of the mushrooms - another perfect pairing by Chef Czarnecki.
Course three was a delectable Pot De Chocolate dessert paired with a special bottle that Wayne Bailey popped the cork of especially for us wine bloggers - the 2007 Jordan Pinot Noir. Although a well-known wine critic claimed the 2007 Willamette Valley Pinots were a bad vintage, to date, I have not had a bad one yet. In fact, I have been absolutely loving the '07 vintage all summer long. If I see a 2007 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir on the shelves of my local wine market, it automatically goes into my basket. The 2007 Youngberg Hill Jordan Pinot Noir had gorgeous blackberry, smoky aromas that followed onto the palate with additional blueberry, coffee and chocolate flavors that were well-rounded with exceptional depth of character. When paired with the ooey-gooey chocolate souffle/pudding dessert that was topped with whipped cream and shaved chocolate, food and wine pairing perfection was once again mastered by extremely talented chef, Chistopher Czarnecki.
With only a few minutes left to enjoy the panoramic and breathtaking views from the Inn's expansive deck, I leaned on the railing with what was left of the 2007 Jordan Pinot Noir and took in the beauty of Youngberg Hill.