Willamette Valley Wines – Carabella

Willamette Valley Wines Tour – Kickoff
We’re starting our Willamette Valley virtual tour by trying some moderately priced ($30-45 generally) estate wines from different sub-AVA’s within Willamette Valley.  For this first look, we’ll concentrate mostly on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  First up: Chehalem Mountains AVA and Carabella.

(click on any image to see in a full-size slideshow)

Chehalem Mountains AVA
Willamette Valley AVA has multiple smaller AVA’s inside, with more coming all the time. These smaller AVA’s share some common characteristics, and winegrowers band together to form a named AVA to highlight that uniqueness.

Willamette Valley Wines website describes a few of the unique features which led to the Chehalem Mountains AVA designation back in 2006:

  • “The highest point within the Willamette Valley is the Chehalem Mountains’ Bald Peak (at 1,633 feet) affecting weather for the AVA and for adjoining grape growing hillsides. It is the geography and climate that differentiate this AVA from others.
  • All three important hillside soil types are represented: basaltic, ocean sedimentary and loess (blown lake bed sediment), the predominant soil on the northern face of the Chehalem Mountains.
  • Within the almost 70,000 acres of this AVA are over 2,600 acres of grapes, grown in over 179 vineyards, and 53 wineries.”

Carabella estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

Back in the 1990’s, owner Mike Hallock lived in Denver and worked as a geologist until he tasted Oregon Pinot Noir while on a fishing trip. Smitten, he started his search for land. As you might imagine, it took him some time to find his perfect spot. He purchased land, planted grapes in 1996 and produced his first wines in 1998.

Mike’s approach features farming first. The vineyards at Carabella are certified sustainable and dry farmed. Also, they use no pesticides or herbicides. In the cellar, the approach is minimal intervention and little new oak, seeking purity of expression. My conclusion from tasting the wines is that Carabella has achieved their goal.

Disclosure: the wines for this post were provided as samples. No other compensations was involved, all opinions expressed are mine.

Carabella Estate Pinot Noir 2017

Carabella Chehalem Mountains Estate Pinot Noir 2017 (sample, $40 SRP or online here) 13.8% abv
Eye: Clear, pale ruby.
Nose: Clean, medium intensity aromas of fresh, ripe red cherries, strawberries, red plums, cinnamon, cedar and a bit of fresh pine needles in the background.
Mouth: Dry, medium intensity flavors which follow the nose dominated by fresh ripe red fruits. Medium acidity, medium+ fine grained tannins, medium body, medium alcohol, medium finish. The texture is lean. The red fruits linger in the finish.
Observations: A very good quality Pinot Noir, with a very light hand on the oak. The wine is led by fruit with accompanying touches of earthy elements. While the acid is only medium, the tannins are surprisingly firm, but certainly in balance.

Carabella Estate Chardonnay “Dijon Clones” 2017

Carabella Chehalem Mountains Estate Chardonnay “Dijon Clones” 2017 (sample, $32 SRP or online here) 13.6% abv
Eye: Clear, pale lemon.
Nose: Clean, medium- intensity aromas of lemon curd, apricot, pineapple with chalk and just a hint of vanilla in the background.
Mouth: Dry, medium intensity flavors which echo the aromas, led by the citrus and tropical fruits. High acidity, medium alcohol, medium body and a lean texture. The wine has a nice medium length finish.
Observations: A very good quality wine with nice texture and a very light hand on the oak flavors. Brilliant refreshing acidity is balanced with fresh ripe fruit. Very refreshing and anything but an oaky/buttery Chardonnay.

Cooking the Cover of Bon Appetit with Carabella Wines
I’ve subscribed to a variety of food magazines over the years, my favorite is Bon Appetit. I regularly have fun cooking the cover, or doing my best to take a cover-worthy photo of a recipe from the magazine.  I haven’t been discovered yet, but you never know!

We enjoyed our dinner of salmon burgers with sour cream and onion potato salad, and the Carabella wines were a very nice match for the food. Both dishes were fun to make and a bit different from typical. I think Bon Appetit has recently been in love with potato chips in a dish. This is my second potato salad with potato chips as ingredients, and we had a tuna casserole (yes, from Bon Appetit) this summer with you guessed it, potato chips.

As for the wines and pairing, the purity of flavors, refreshing acidity and light touch on the oak meant these wines didn’t takeover, but complemented the food. I know Pinot Noir is often championed as a perfect pairing for salmon, but I think Chardonnay is often even better. Both wines were delicious with the meal, but I thought the Chardonnay really shone with both the burger and the potato salad; I would not turn down the Pinot Noir!

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