pinot noir

Wine Tasting Adventure! Sweet Cheeks


There are few things I get greater joy from than wine tasting. It isn’t just that the wine is delicious (which, of course it is!) but that the product was created by someone who put his/her heart and soul out there. Winemaking isn’t an easy business. I often compared it to being a chef – you really have to love it! It is challenging, expensive, exhausting, and most of all, rewarding. When I am able to try wines that were created right outside Eugene I totally swoon. These grapes were grown (usually!) in my home state, and made just a few miles from my house. You can’t get more local than that!

Love this view!

Sweet Cheeks is a winery I’ve been going to for many years. I love the view, the wines, and the staff is always so friendly. This past week I realized it had been WAY too long since I’d stopped by, so I made the short trek out to the winery. My goodness it is beautiful! The views of rolling hills and vineyards is entrancing. I of course was able to try some really fantastic wine as well, and they have many in the under $20 range!

The first one I knew I had to mention was their 2014 Dry Rosé. It is no secret that I love, love, love Rosé wines, but I especially loved this one. There was a nice crispness to this wine with hints of strawberries and red delicious apples. It had an almost effervescent mouthfeel to it. If you are unsure of whether or not you love a rosé wine, you should drink this one. It was everything I love about this style of wine and more.

On the sweeter side, I tried the 2014 Rosy Cheeks. This one is very well known in the area, and is almost exclusively sold at the winery. Aged in all stainless vessels, this wine is a bit on the sweet side. However, it had nice balance and with flavors like peaches, honey, and a hint of strawberries and cream. It was thoroughly delicious from start to finish. Pair this wine with the lovely view from the vineyard and you truly have the perfect day.

Some of the line up – Makes me thirsty just looking at it!

Oregon is known for its fantastic Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Pinot Noir grapes. The line up at Sweet Cheeks was a great example of this being totally true. I loved the 2014 Pinot Gris, filled with ripe green apple and crisp citrus flavors. The 2014 Dry Riesling (being a traditionally “sweet” grape, this can be a bit tougher to find!) had flavors of honeysuckle and pear, with hints of key lime lingering on the tongue. And lastly, the 2013 Pinot Fusion (also not over $20) was one that I knew I had to share. I’ve had this wine before, but it had been a while and the age had only added to this wines deliciousness. Dark cherries, blackberries, and currants filled my palette. There was even a hint of smokiness present that I absolutely loved. This medium bodied red wine was a great value, made locally, and fantastic. What a win!

Sweet Cheeks Winery has some wonderful wines in its line up. Only a short drive from Eugene, this spot is worth checking out for the beautiful view and the fantastic selections. For a Frugal Wine Gal like me, Sweet Cheeks has many options as well. Cheers to local AND affordable wines!

the view
I’ve gotta soak in that view just one more time…

Underwood Wine: In The Can!


The more I dive into the world of wine, the more I realize not only how cool it is (obviously!) but just how complicated. There are so many choices to be made with each wine. For the winemaker, it starts in the vineyard and extends all the way into how you want to enclose your wine. Union Wine Co. based in Tualatin, Oregon has done something quite daring with their wines, put them in a can! Their Underwood brand (that I talk about here!), is the label chosen for this. I really enjoyed the Pinot Noir in the bottle, and this past week I finally found the canned version of both the Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. I snapped them up of course.

wine in a canBefore I talk about this delicious wine, I have to say that it was a very different experience taking my first sip of wine out of a can. As a fan of beverages in a can though (cold beer out of a can is heavenly!), I was very impressed. The Pinot Gris especially was an excellent fit for the can. Each sip of the Gris was crisp and refreshing with flavors of ripe grapefruit and apples. The Pinot Noir was equally delicious. This wine had a bit more body of course, with flavors of cherry and dark berries. There was a hint of smokiness that I loved as well. I remember when I initially tried this Pinot I loved how flavorful it was, yet light bodied. This wine is perfect for any occasion, and would pair great with a wide variety of foods.

I can totally see the benefits of putting wine in a can now that I’ve tried it. You don’t have to worry about breaking any glass, it’s easy to open, and it truly tasted the same as in the bottle. One benefit of bottles and corks is the aging potential for a wine, and with this kind of enclosure you lose some of that. With that being said, these wines are ready to drink now! These are meant to be delicious, fresh, and food friendly wines that are ready to sip on. The cans are the perfect choice really! Each can holds half a bottle, which is a nice amount too. I picked these up (finally!!) at my local grocery store for about $6. You can order from their website as well in 6 packs, which is pretty cool.

I highly recommend this wine as a daily drinker. Both varietals were balanced, and very enjoyable. I know I can’t wait to stock up!

What’s In My Glass? Underwood Pinot Noir


Oregon wine can be extremely affordable. This is the foundation I started my writing on, and I’m continually impressed with the options I have as a frugal buyer. An amazing option that I just recently discovered was one that I knew I had to share. The 2013 Underwood Pinot Noir. What makes this wine stand out so much? The balance of price and, well, deliciousness. From the moment this wine hit my glass I loved it. This wine is a blend of Pinot grapes from all over the state and is an excellent example of affordable Oregon Pinot Noir.

Underwood Pinot
Underwood Pinot in the glass

In my glass the Underwood Pinot Noir had a beautiful hue. It was light in color, and in body, and had really nice balance. It was earthy with hints of oak, and flavors of currant and spice really came through. The tannins were perfect, and the wine had a nice smooth finish. Another cool fact about this wine is that it’s available in a can. That’s right! A can!


Union Wine Company, the producers of Underwood Pinot Noir, really focus on value and quality. For frugal wine buyers, and especially lovers of Pinot, this wine was an amazing find. Buying a Pinot and loving it all for less than $15 a bottle – is a gift! Pick this bottle up for yourself at most local grocery stores and retailers. The running price for this wine is about $12. Yes, just $12 for a thoroughly enjoyable Oregon Pinot. Run, don’t walk to get this wine. It is delicious and enjoyable treat. Cheers!

New Winery Alert! Cória Estates


Finding a new winery is always so exciting. There are so many that I can’t wait to explore that it can almost be overwhelming! Recently, I heard of a winery that was just recently opened (and still expanding!) just outside of Salem. Cória Estates was one great find! They have three phenomenal wines released currently. Their first vintage was in 2013, and they produced Pinot Gris, Rosé of Pinot Noir, and Pinot Noir. These are the wines I was able to try and I loved them. Each was very distinct of course, but really well balanced.


All of their wines are made from estate grown grapes, and they have 90 acres total. Now that is a lot of vines! They are planning of planting more grapes this year too. The 2013 Pinot Gris was the first taste I had, and it was so crisp – flavors of lemon peel key lime popped right away. I would describe this as dry, but absolutely balanced. It was fruit forward with a bright acidity.

The Rosé of Pinot Noir was one that I had to take home with me. It was so fruit forward, yet perfectly dry. I love a good dry rosé and this one really stood out. Flavors of strawberry rhubarb and ripe cherries were really distinct, but the mouthfeel was almost creamy. It was very fruit forward overall with a nice dry finish. Wine Spectator Magazine also rated this 90 points! I have a bottle of this in my fridge I can’t wait to sip on.


The last taste I had was of the 2013 Pinot Noir. Oh my goodness. This wine smelled very bold to me, that is I got notes of spice and tobacco. The color was lovely, and it had flavors of blackberry, currants, and bit of white pepper. It was still very smooth throughout and had the perfect balance of tannins. It was just what I want in a Pinot.

I loved this cool decanter. It decants quickly – so that you can sip on your bottle that much sooner!

Their site for growing grapes is relatively cold, which means that the fruit develops a little slower and has more hang time at the end of the summer. Combine the quality fruit and talented wine making, and Cória Estates has it nailed. All of these wines were right around our $20 price point as well. Check out their tasting room just south of Salem, it’s a bit off the beaten path but the drive is totally worth it. Cheers!

What’s In My Glass? Archery Summit


The next time you are cruising along highway 99 through Dayton, Oregon and the see the blue sign leading to “Archery Summit Winery” – do yourself a favor and stop by. This winery has been producing some pretty amazing Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris in the Willamette Valley since 1993. They have 120 acres of vineyard land in both the Dundee Hills and Red Ribbon AVA (American Viticulture Area), and were the first winery in Oregon to dig a cave to age their wines in.

The top of Archery Summit’s Summit (Photo Credit: Ethan Prater)

On a drizzly evening I popped open a bottle of Archery Summit’s 2012 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. This wineries emphasis on “terroir”, low fruit yield for more complex flavors, and unique style of winemaking created a wonderful bottle of Pinot. It poured very dark in the glass and was very lush. It took a few minutes to open up but when it did it was bursting with flavors of rich, dark berries and toasted hazelnuts. It was very earthy and had a velvety mouthfeel. On the finish there were smooth tannins and notes of spice like licorice as well. This wine was pure heaven from beginning to finish.


Check out Archery Summit’s amazing selection of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris for yourself. They average above my usual frugal price range but are an excellent example of the beauty of Oregon Pinot Noir done right. It is totally worth the splurge. Cheers!

What’s in My Glass? Lavelle Vineyards


Tasting rooms are such a fun place to meet other wine lovers like myself, and try all of the delicious varietals available from our local producers. Recently I made a pit stop to Lavelle Vineyards and discovered one of my new favorites: the 2012 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.


This particular year was unseasonably warm, and with it came some very juicy wines. The 2012 Lavelle Pinot Noir was the perfect example of this. Grown on their own estate, this wine was full of dark berries, earthy notes, and a hint of smoke and spice. I really loved this wine. They have a few locations nearby Eugene that you can pick up this bottle. There is the tap room in Springfield (off of International way) or their tasting room in Elmira. The vines may be dormant right now, but it sure is beautiful.

Whatever you do, try this Pinot Noir. It was slightly above our frugal budget, but this local gem it is worth the splurge. Cheers!

Food Pairing Challenge: Pinot Noir


Oregon is known for some amazing Pinot Noir, especially from the Willamette Valley. Pinot Noir is one of the most versatile wines for food pairing. This wasn’t so much of a challenge in terms of finding something to pair with it, but it was the first time I cooked something specifically to drink this varietal with. My wine of choice was the Evesham Wood 2013 Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley.


What a beautiful Pinot. Full of flavors of dark cherries and earthy notes throughout. This wine was thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. It paired perfectly with my homemade creamy french onion soup as well. The sweetness of the soup brought out some smoky and peppery notes in the Pinot, creating a completely different and delicious experience. The Evesham Wood 2013 Pinot Noir sells for $20 a bottle, and I highly recommend whipping up your own batch of french onion soup to pair with it. Cheers!

Wine Down Eugene


by Sarah Tunnell – the Frugal Wino

Oregon Pinot Noir can be a very difficult wine to find while maintaining a frugal budget.  I’ve tried many less than $20 dollar Pinots, and until now I’ve had a tough time finding one that truly impresses me. Attending industry tastings gives me the chance to try countless Pinot Noirs from all over Oregon.  Ranging mostly from $30-$75 dollars, each is delicious and offers distinct flavor characteristics which are brought on by the area where the grapes are grown, but under $20 dollar excellent Pinots are a rare find.  There is great diversity in the Willamette Valley alone; If you taste a Pinot Noir from the Eola-Amity Hills AVA or Dundee Hills AVA  (the areas between Salem and Newberg, Oregon), it is more likely to be filled with flavors of big red berries, spices, and floral notes.  Wines from the southern region of the Willamette Valley, near Eugene, are more likely to be earthy and peppery. The diversity makes me want to try wines from every unique terroir in Oregon!


Carlo & Julian is a winery right outside Carlton, Oregon (in the northern Willamette Valley).  Owner and winemaker Felix Madrid studied at UC Davis, much like many great winemakers.  He planted his first vines – Pinot Noir – in 1991.  In 1996, after his first crush, he started Carlo & Julian – named after his two sons.  His estate wines include Pinot Noir, Grenache, and Tempranillo, but he also produces Malbec, Syrah, and Merlot from the Spofford Station Vineyard just south of the Washington border near Walla Walla.  Madrid produces 1000 cases a year and self distributes throughout Oregon. When I saw the bottle of 2009 Carlo & Julian Estate Pinot Noir, I was immediately intrigued and had to try it.  Boy am I glad I did!


The first thing I noticed when I poured a glass of the ’09 Pinot was the color – it was beautifully dark, like blackberries or plums.  Aromas of blackberries and pepper flowed on to the palate with flavors of cherry, spices and oak.  A smooth mouthfeel and finish (my favorite part), left residual flavors of roasted nuts and vanilla.  

At $18 dollars a bottle, this wine was worth every penny – it was hearty and fantastic.  The next time I’m in Carlton, my first stop will be Carlo & Julian.  Cheers!

Wine Down Eugene


Wine Down Eugene May 28 – June 4

Southern Oregon is filled with hundreds of micro-climates among its many rolling hills, mountains, rivers and lakes, and the southernmost wine growing region in Southern Oregon is the Rogue Valley.  Within the Rogue Valley AVA (American Viticulture Area) is the Rogue River’s drainage basin and several tributaries that include Bear Creek, the Applegate River and the Illinois River.  Most wineries in the region are found in the valleys that are formed by these three tributaries.

Map via Rogue Valley Winegrowers Association
Map via Rogue Valley Winegrowers Association

Each of the valley’s formed by the tributaries have their own unique micro-climates and terroirs, allowing for the growth of both cool climate and warm climate varietals.  Most of the region is suited for warmer climate varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Syrah, Grenache, Vigonier and Chardonnay.  But the Rogue Valley’s sub appellation, the Illinois Valley AVA (which is along the Illinois River in the westerly portion of the region and at the highest elevations – around 2,000 feet above sea level) is where cool climate varietals, like those found in the Willamette Valley, thrive.

As a wine writer, I receive a lot of wine for review purposes, but when I receive wine that’s not only from my home state, but also from the super unique Illinois Valley AVA, I get really excited.  When I opened the box to find four vibrantly-labeled Deer Creek Vineyards wines, I knew I was in for a treat.  Three of the four wines were from one of my favorite vintages in Oregon, 2011: a Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris.  2011 was a cooler than average year in Oregon, and in cooler years wine grapes tend to yield higher acidity levels – I love wine with zippy acidity.  The fourth wine was a Pinot Noir from the revered 2012 vintage.

DCV OR all 4

The Bryan family, owner of Deer Creek Vineyards, pride themselves on letting the terroir express the distinct characteristics of their wines.  Small lot and vineyard designate, vintner’s John and Katherine Bryan are all about making hand-crafted, authentic wines that are packed full of flavors that come from the earth where the fruit is grown.

Their winemaking philosophy of creating terroir-focused wines is clearly evident in each of the Deer Creek Vineyards wines that I sampled.  From the complex, bright fruits, to the well balanced, acid-driven finishes, I absolutely loved all four wines.  Each showcased the varietal’s true characteristics; along with, what I am sure is the expressive terroir of the Rogue and Illinois Valley.

Deer Creek Vineyards 2011 Pinot Gris ($20): Bright green apple, pear and lime are highlighted by alluring spice. On the palate, vibrant fruitiness is rounded out by a lovely shot of acidity, creating a really nicely balanced wine that would not only be great with a number of foods, but excellent all on its own while relaxing in the summer on the front porch.

dcv or pg

Deer Creek Vineyards 2011 Chardonnay ($20): Meyer lemon, honeycrisp apples and a touch of honeysuckle are round and lush on the palate, leaving it coated with gorgeous complex fruit and citrus flavors.  The finish is clean and focused, yet zesty lemon-lime finishes it off with a memorable zip.

Deer Creek Vineyards 2011 Pinot Noir ($35): This style of Pinot Noir is exactly why I love this cool climate varietal! Beautiful earthy tones are highlighted by Bing cherries and fall spices – excellent acidity balances everything out to perfection.  This is the ultimate style Pinot Noir for acid hounds, such as myself.

Deer Creek Vineyards 2012 Pinot Noir ($50): This is the style of Pinot Noir that has wine enthusiasts around the word going gaga over Pinot.  Ripe red fruits, like raspberries, strawberries and cherries are highlighted by subtle spice and rounded out by delicate, yet pronounced acidity.  It’s lush and velvety mouthfeel creates a super elegant wine that is delicate, yet complex – a gorgeous Pinot Noir.

dcv or pn

I haven’t been to Deer Creek Vineyards yet, but after browsing through their website,, they are at the top of my list of places to visit for more reasons than just the stellar wine: the view looks spectacular, and they offer massages in the vineyard, check it out here.

Wine Down Eugene


Wine Down Eugene April 30 – May 6

I know I’m biased, but seriously, is there any better place on earth than Oregon? I think not. Reflecting on just the past two weeks alone, I have had the opportunity to join in on three absolutely fabulous and memorable events, and although each of the three events were totally unique and different, they all shared a common ground: wine.

Seufert Belly menu

These three events included a spectacular dinner and a show in Eugene, a sensory invoking Riesling-centric wine tasting in Portland, and the first ever conference based on cool climate olive oils, stationed at an olive farm and mill in the Dundee Hills.  Although this week’s Wine Down focuses on just one of these three Oregon events, the other two totally memorable and notable events will be written about in full detail on my award-winning website,  Be on the look out for Remarkable Rieslings of Brooks Winery and EVOOs Cool Climate Culture of the Pacific Northwest.

The first of the three events was enjoying an impressive dinner at Belly followed by an inspirational show at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts: Zoot Suit Riot, presented by the Eugene Ballet Company and the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies – a ballet like none I’ve ever seen before.  Invited by the great folks behind the stunning Seufert Winery wines, Michelle Wasner and Jim Seufert, I was sure to make room in my schedule for an evening I knew was going to be nothing short of spectacular.  Not only do I love Belly, it’s truly one of Eugene’s finest restaurants, but Jim Seufert makes some of the best wine in Oregon.  (Read about an unforgettable flight of seven single vineyard 2009 Pinot Noirs I experienced at Seufert Winery here.)  In tow, Jim brought two wines with him to share at dinner: a 2013 Chardonnay (the first-ever Chardonnay for Seufert) and a 2009 Barrel Select Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.

Enjoyed each sip of this beautifully evolving, stellar Pinot Noir.
Enjoyed each sip of this beautifully evolving, stellar Pinot Noir.

The food I ordered was solely based on the two wines Jim had brought, so I started with the salad special to pair with the Chardonnay, and for an entree, I ordered the Ginger and Coriander Braised Beef Short ribs to go along with the Pinot Noir.  Being a first attempt at Chardonnay, Jim’s winemkaing expertise radiated in the beautiful rich, alluring, aromas of pears, apples and spice.  A soft elegant entrance onto the palate displayed lively hints of honeysuckle that rolled in seamless, juicy waves from the front to the back, ending with the perfect zing of acidity to round out the fruit to precision.  The 2009 Barrel Select Pinot Noir was absolutely divine with the braised short ribs.  Dark and light berry fruits with an emphasis on cherries and raspberries were beautifully highlighted by mushrooms, earth, cedar and fall spices.  Great complexity and depth added loads of character, yet the wine’s elegance and delicacy were undeniably noticeable and totally palate pleasing.

It was tough to get up and leave for the ballet; I could have easily stuck around a few more hours simply enjoying the lovely nuances of the Seufert Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and of course, the shared conversation.  But as much as sipping and chatting the night away would have been a true delight, I was crazy ecstatic about seeing Zoot Suit Riot.  I’ve been a big fan of Eugene’s Cherry Poppin’ Daddies since they played their first show at the W.O.W. Hall not long after I graduated from Sheldon High School back in the late 80s.  The thought of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies belting out the tunes alongside the Eugene Ballet Company was nothing short of intensely intriguing.  Could they pull it off?

The oh so delicious braised short ribs at Belly
The oh so delicious braised short ribs at Belly

Well, pull it off they did, and with pure perfection at that.  The music was just as incredible as when I saw them play in 1989, and the choreography was in utter harmony with the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies swing-style, big-band, make me want to get up and dance music.

*A very special thank you to Michelle Wasner and Jim Seufert for the generous invitation and fun-filled evening. From the wine and food to the conversation and musical performance, thank you!


1 2 3 4