Spend 15 minutes talking to Peter Rosback, and you won't be surprised to learn the thin, red-headed Sineann Winery owner and winemaker is also a hockey player. He peppers his conversation with good-natured, witty crosschecks and self-deprecating barbs, every now and then turning the tables to make you wonder whom, exactly, is interviewing whom.
Deft repartee aside, what comes across in nearly everything Rosback says is his enthusiasm for making wine. An ambassador for the Pacific Northwest for more than two decades, Sineann's line-up now includes 30 different wines, from Pinot Noir to Cabernet Sauvignon, mostly from single vineyards scattered across Oregon's Willamette and Hood River Valleys and the Columbia Valley and Columbia Gorge (in both Oregon and Washington). Among those are also a few special wines from the Napa Valley and Marlborough, New Zealand, made "to keep it interesting."
"I make the wines I like to drink," Rosback tells me, and those are wines that are fruit-forward but balanced, with great texture and, above all, balanced acidity. All of his wines (except those from New Zealand) are finished with a Vino-Lok, essentially a glass cork, which Rosback was the first in the U.S. to try. "The reason I started not using cork was, you know, corks ruin wines," Rosback said. "That drove me nuts...We do so much work in the vineyard and the winery to make quality wine, and then to have packaging ruin it? I couldn't take it anymore." He recently evaluated the first vintage he bottled with the glass stopper (2004), some of which was also finished with cork, in a side-by-side tasting. "The cork wine will be more developed and open...the Vino-Lok will have a richer mid-palate and a richer, spicier finish. Within a couple of hours the aromatics come up in the Vino-Lok and is as good as the cork."
We currently have just three of the Sineann wines - their small production means they sell out fast - but expect to get more soon.
One of our favorite wines vintage after vintage is the Pheasant Valley Vineyard Columbia Gorge Pinot Noir (2008 $22.99). It comes from a biodynamically farmed vineyard in the Hood River Valley. This lesser known growing region northeast of Portland boasts much higher elevations than the Willamette Valley, as well as warmer daytime temperatures and cooler nights. The resulting wines have amazingly vibrant acidity, and in a stellar vintage like 2008, that makes for an incredibly charming wine. With all of the upfront fruit you'd expect in a Sineann wine, this has a firm but approachable structure and tannins as polished as sea stone.
The 2008 Sineann "Old Vine" Columbia Valley Zinfandel ($37.99) mentioned in the video below, is a really special find. Often thought as a quintessential California grape, Zinfandel does remarkably well in Oregon. The fruit for this particular wine comes from the Pines Vineyard near the Dalles, where the huge daily temperature fluctuations lead to grapes that are ripe, but not in that jammy Cali way. Restrained and elegant, this is more along the wines of an Italian Primitivo and an extraordinary wine you just need to taste to believe.
While Sineann is probably best known for their reds, it's their white wines that really make an impression. Sineann's Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris are some of the best on the market, with impeccable freshness and fruit character. "If you see any stainless steel barrels around, we use those for our white wine," Rosback told me on a tour of the barrel room. "We don't put any oak on any white wine. We hate oak on white wines. (Actually, it's okay on some wines, just not ours.)"
We still currently have a handful of bottles of the 2008 Sineann Riesling ($18.99), which comes from the Medici Vineyard in Newberg where Peter makes the Sineann wines. Proof, to me, that Oregon Riesling is destined for greatness, this dry, bright, slightly floral and citrus-kissed wine will brighten up even the rainiest Oregon day and perfectly complement spicy Thai, Indian or Vietnamese dishes. They didn't make a 2009, so if you want to try this wine, don't wait.
Conducting a video interview in a working winery is challenging. While I was there, they were prepping the 2009 Pinots for bottling, which means the whir of the pressure washer and metronome-ticking of a diaphragm pump dominate the background. I had to edit out a lot of great material because it was inaudible, so here's just a snippet of what we got. Please excuse the noise...