Barrel Tasting - A Lesson from the Pros

Barrel Tasting - A Lesson from the Pros

3 min read

One the many luxuries of having winery owning friends is that they call you to help with a myriad of tasks, and of course, we frequently say yes! Anything from trimming vines to filtering and bottling , Winery Wanderings is there to help. This time, the call went out to help with barrel tasting. Now this is a glass I can really wrap my hands around. The invitation even included dinner following this very hard work, how could we say no?

Sue Shay and Alyse, staying warm

Before we left, I reminded Neal that we would be in the barrel room, a space that is cold even when it isn’t an Oregon winter afternoon. With the temperatures hovering in the high 30’s to low 40’s, there was no doubt that we needed to bundle up. With our wool caps and mittens tucked into the pockets of our puffy jackets, off we went to the Monroe Hills.

This adventure was purely scientific, honest it was! We were invited to help taste from approximately 18-20 barrels to assure that things were progressing well, that the wine was developing as expected and, God forbid, nothing was amiss inside the barrels.

We have written about Bluebird Hill Cellars before, in fact we have written about this special place many times. Why is it so special? The people, the place, the wine, even the dogs create an atmosphere that is inviting, warm, comfortable and sophisticated.

We started with Pinot Gris. It was harvested last September after a fairly average Oregon summer. There were several bottles of Pinot Gris. It was interesting to taste the difference among the different harvest sites and different barrels. They progressed from light and tangy to pithy citrus. All were well on their way to being lovely wines, either alone or mixed among the barrels.

Next we went to the winery’s most awarded wine, their Chardonnay. Previous vintages have been recognized with awards ranging all the way to gold medals. I suspect the next vintage will earn the same great recognition. The samples we tried were rich with new oak, hints of pineapple and amazing combinations of aromas and tastes that guarantee another prize winning year.

At last, it was time for the Pinot Noir, the Willamette Valley’s star of the show! There were at least 16 different barrels, ranging from estate grown grapes to grapes from some of the finest vineyards in the Willamette Valley. The fun of tasting from the barrel is discovering the nuances of each wine, each barrel, each vineyard and each clone. Some barrels will be combined, others will remain as stand-alones while others may become reserve selections. Each delivered a gentle complexity that will only grow with more time in the barrel. Some were already drinkable while others will benefit from the luxury of time in oak. The oak ranged from new barrels to retoasted to neutral, each providing a distinct quality to the wine.

We finished this grueling exercises (oh, how we suffered), with Syrah. The black pepper, the tobacco, the plum notes, were already present. It was a great experience to go directly from the elegance of Pinot Noir to the robust taste of Syrah, knowing that each would continue to develop.

Thanks to Sue and Neil Shay, we continue to learn about all aspects of wine and have so many opportunities to experience the process live and in person! Thank you both!

Following this challenging afternoon, we debriefed over a lovely dinner with wines from other wineries and conversation about our next adventures.