Taste of Wine: On the road again: Tasting Northwest wines

Taste of Wine: On the road again: Tasting Northwest wines
Frequent wine travelers Scott and Nancine Hagner, tour the Applegate Valley of southern Oregon, making a stop at the Wooldridge Creek Winery. Photo courtesy Scott Hagner

My all-time favorite County music singer is Willie Nelson, especially when he sings, “On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again…”

I’ve got a couple of close friends that I want to introduce you to: Nancine and Scott Hagner.  Willie’s song could have been written for them.

After twin careers in the San Diego Unified School District, they have both retired to pursue twin loves — traveling in their motor home and visiting wineries.

They recently returned from their latest adventure, a two-month journey including tastings and experiencing the great wine countries of Oregon and Washington.  It was their 93rd road trip, and like Willie sings, they, “can’t wait to get on the road again.”

“We are now retired and we have had an RV motor home that can pull a small vehicle,” said Scott Hagner.  “Nancine and I have been planning to see the countryside of the Yakima Valley and Walla Walla in eastern Washington for a long time.  We combined it with the beauty of Oregon and set our sights for our longest trip yet, with a no-reservation adventure.  We depended on the network of RV parks, traveled for three to four hours, then parked and explored.  It is a great feeling of freedom for us on the open road.”

On their way up, the Hagners went through Napa Valley, tasting and touring some of the wineries on their short list.  They got to know Beaulieu, Provenance, Sterling and a favorite of mine, Castello di Amorosa.

Interstate 5 provided access to Oregon and on to state Route 238 and the powerful Rogue River near the city of Grants Pass.  This is rugged fir trees and rapids country and the 18 wineries follow suit: powerful, flavorful and rugged. Two names to know in this Applegate Valley wine country in the south of Oregon:  Troon Vineyard and Woolridge Creek Winery.  Troon was the earliest of the wineries to plant Zinfandel. They have expanded their wine menu to 10 more on 25-plus acres, including the Italian heavyweight varietal, Vermentino.  Visit  troonvineyard.com. It gets an emphatic thumbs up from the Hagners.

Close behind is Woolridge Creek, 56 acres of Cabernet, Merlot, Cab Franc and nine other mostly French style wines. Check out wcwinery.com.

After a detour to the Oregon coast and the city of Florence, the Hagners set out on Interstate 84 to get to the state of Washington and the Yakima Valley.

The first people to inhabit this fertile valley were the Indian tribes of the Yakima nation.  The wild sagebrush and sloping foothills shape the culture of the wineries and other farms of this vast area of central Washington.  The Hagners camped in this area for three days, and it was here they discovered Kana Winery in the historic downtown of Yakima, one of the few in-town tasting rooms.

Up until the Kana Winery experience, Yakima was a disappointment with the best comment about tasted wines being, “decent and drinkable.”

Kana is a native word for the spirit or the fire within a volcano.  Volcanic influences abound in the soil of central and eastern Washington.

The winemaker is Tony Lombardo who joined Kana in 2012, bringing his philosophy that, “90 percent of winemaking is done in the vineyard.”

Recent vintages from 2008, to the most recently bottled 2014, have all been above average.  The Hagners brought back one the vineyard’s best varietals, a Kana Old Vine Blaufrankisch Lemberger 2011. The wine was a recent award winner at a Seattle tasting, which features dark, spicy, balanced tannins.  This grape is well-known and grown in Austria, the Czech Republic and Croatia. The Yakima Valley is one of the few places in the U.S. where this grape is grown.  Kana sells this bottle for $18.  Visit kanawinery.com.

Two hours from Yakima, Nancine and Scott settled into Walla Walla, and it was here they hit the mother lode of wines — as downtown Walla Walla has more than 22 tasting rooms and over 60 wineries in the district.

Long Shadows, Amavi and LeEcole are three well-known wineries in the Walla Walla district, but Nancine and Scott are seekers of small, more handcrafted wineries — wineries less traveled.  The top of the list was Spring Valley Vineyard, home of big red wines.  Their 115 acres produce Merlot, Cab Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Malbec and Petit Verdot.  Spring Valley’s brand names reach out and grab like Muleskinner, Derby and a 3,000 case Uriah 2013 blend that has all of the above varietals, for $50 a bottle.  Visit at springvalleyvineyard.com. Other discoveries in Walla Walla were:  Kontos, Seven Hills, Henry Earl, TERO, Saviah and Northstar.

The Hagners are taking short trips to keep in shape for a possible big one in 2017, a river trip through the Rhone Valley of France.  I guess they will have to keep the RV home for that one.

Wine Bytes

Vittorio’s Restarant in Carmel Valley presents a Miner Napa Valley Winery dinner Oct. 27 at 6 p.m.  Cost is $49.50 per person for a five-course dinner including a main entrée of grilled beef tenderloin served with Miner Emily’s Cuvee 2013.  RSVP at (858) 538-5884.

The Winesellar and Brasserie in Sorrento Valley is planning a Cabernet Classic Oct. 29 from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.  Taste over 20 cabs for $27 each; $22 for club members.  California’s Paso Robles and Napa Valley are included in the list and are specially priced. Call (858) 450-9557 for an RSVP.

Parc Bistro & Brasserie on 5th Avenue in San Diego will showcase Frank Family Wines of Napa Valley with a premium dinner, Nov. 3 at 6 p.m. Winemaker Todd Graff will be a special guest.  Six wines will be presented with paired menu items.  Cost is $89. Call for your reservation at (619) 795-1501.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator.  He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web. View his columns at tasteofwinetv.com and reach him at mangiompc@aol.com.  Follow him on Facebook.

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