Tag Archives: pinot noir

Braving the Willamette Valley front: Oregon Wine Month

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There is a belief among wine cognoscenti that grape vines must suffer before they can produce great wines. In the Willamette Valley of Oregon, not only does that happen, but everyone in the wine business undergoes an annual pain called, “The Harvest.” Is Mother Nature going to be good to us, or will we be left to our own devices and suffer unruly weather? Unlike other regions in the world, such as Australia and the Napa Valley in California, the Willamette Valley proves unpredictable, and provides vintners with unhappy grapes from difficult vintages. While all wine growing regions suffer good and bad years, Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley, just like the varietal in Burgundy, paints a picture of extreme variance.

Why do it? Just like writers, photographers and chefs, it is because of the challenge. Many of the greatest wine growers and winemakers aim their sights at the Holy Grail and pursue Pinot Noir with unrelenting faith because when Pinot Noir is great, there is nothing better. This is where the geekiest of wine folks live. It is an on-the-edge behavior that puts them in another realm. Two recent vintages in the Willamette Valley underscore this theme. 2011, which was a cool year, yielded many ungenerous wines that most “normal” wine drinkers may not enjoy. Yes, they may pretend to like it at a party, but it lacks the big, ripe fruit characteristic of say, a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2012’s were a much different animal, and produced a wine that everyone would drink happily. For the most part, the 2012 wines are rich, rounded and juicy as can be. I already know a few purists who are scoffing at the wines for their uber-enticing style and seemingly early drinkability. Oh yes, I forgot to tell you, wine geeks often like wines that are crisp, high in acid, great with food and have potential to age over decade’s time. I am okay with both, I would just have to change my food pairing choices.

Pinot Noir is always a challenge. The wine is one of fussiest on the planet. The wine folks in the Willamette Valley are used to being on the outskirts of life and have come to love all their vintages for what they are. One fact is undeniable – unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel, it cannot hide. Vintners cannot use oak, sugar or other varietals to make it better. It is what makes us love it or hate it. Here are a pair of favorites from my notebook. The classic and red-fruited 2013 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir from Dundee Hills, the fine and complex 2012 WillaKenzie Aliette and the cool vintage 2011 WillaKenzie Pierre Leon. Give them a try and you too will discover how nifty the Willamette Valley vintners are!

 

Just SOMME stuff I think about: Oregon

drouhinIt seems to me that Oregon Pinot Noir wines are becoming more and more popular everyday. Larger wine companies are taking interest and buying up properties that were once thought of as novelty. Foley Family Wines recently purchased the Four Graces Winery, following the in-roads that Kendall Jackson and Louis Jadot laid out with their recent purchases. And this got me thinking… what does anyone really know about the Willamette Valley in Oregon? The pioneers David Lett and Dick Erath blazed a trail and proved that amazing and long-lived wines could be made and grown there, but I doubt anyone really knows what any of this juice tastes like. One thing I’m always tasked with as a Sommelier, is telling people what different wines taste like in addition to what you should eat with them. So I am going to greatly generalize the Willamette Valley and the individual AVAs below, so that when confronted with a list you will be prepared to order a wine you love.

downloadDundee Hills:
Light ruby to cranberry in color with perfumed aromatics that will also include raspberry, black cherry and cola. The palate seems to have a sweet fruity core even though the wine is dry with spices, cola, earthiness and truffle.

Food Pairing: roasted porcini mushrooms and polenta

Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2011

Yamhill-Carlton
Deep and dark ruby color with a rich, round mouth feel and silky tannins; this is a big wine. Big aromas of spices like anise or cloves then blackberries, blueberries, and roses. The palate will have the bramble fruit characteristics with espresso and clove developing into tobacco and cedar.

Food pairing: Roasted Duck Breast with berry glaze

Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee Pinot Noir 2011

Ribbon Ridge
The most age-worthy of all the wines but bordering on a rustic personality; this Pinot exhibits medium-plus to high acid, fine-grained tannins with a ton of earth and chocolate. What fruit you do find will be black cherries and plums.

Food Pairing: Chicken with Morels and Tarragon Cream Sauce

Bergstrom Silice Pinot Noir 2012

Chehalem Mountains
Due to high variance of soil and elevation this is a little harder to generalize but… they are either lighter and have a lot more red fruits like cherry and raspberry or dark cherries and dark plums. They all tend to have a lot earthy mushrooms and brown spices like allspice.

Food Pairing: Pasta with Mushroom Cream Sauce

Chehalem 3 Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012

Eola-Amity Hills
These are full-bodied Pinots yet very elegant and even feminine in nature. Bright red fruits like raspberry or cranberry with plums and dark cherries notably high in acid and minerality but with a good structure that brings balance. These wines tend to be the bright and fruity Pinots of the Willamette, with a spicy finish.

Food pairing: Cedar Planked Salmon

Evening Land Eola-Amity Hills Seven Springs Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

McMinnville
These are the big boys on the block: the darkest in color and the most tannins, these wines tend to exhibit huge flavors of black fruits and earth. The fruits on the palate range from fig, cherry, mulberry, plum, olive or any combination thereof. The earthy components range from wet forest floor, mushrooms, truffles and dried leaves. Generally referred to as massive.

Food Pairing: Roasted Pork Loin with root vegetables

Brittan Basalt Block Pinot Noir 2010

Obviously, this doesn’t cover elevation, soil components or individual winemakers. Every wine is different from year to year, too. I only hope that this will serve as a rough guide to help you enjoy the world of Oregon Pinots from the Willamette Valley. Also: don’t forget the whites and Rosés!

 

 

From Burgundy with love: Appellation Bourgogne

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To most lonely and dedicated wine souls, Burgundy is the greatest challenge of all. One taste of a Montrachet or Romanée-Conti and one is doomed for a life of endless searching, and the painful reality of never-enough-money to even sniff wine’s Holy Grail. Even village wines cost more money than most mortals can spend. So it comes down to this: rare, ultra-expensive wines are often difficult to pronounce and harder to locate, even if one has reconciled the cost of the wine. It is no wonder that so many consumers have been chilled out of this precious wine region. Yet Burgundy, well aware of this situation, has begun to market wines that we all can afford.

Bourgogne Chardonnay and Bourgogne Pinot Noir is now the ticket back into Burgundy and provide the world with not just delicious and affordable wines, but wines that can be found in the marketplace. Wine experts freely admit that Burgundy is the birthplace of quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. While both varietals (more chard than pinot) are widely grown throughout the world, history and research always begin here. Bourgogne is now the appellation that delivers the flavors of the varietals, as well as the characteristics of Burgundy at an affordable price.

Over the last 20 years, I have been most impressed with Bouchard Père et Fils and how their continued growth to make better and better wines. The current 2012 Bourgogne Chardonnay and 2012 Bourgogne Pinot Noir are excellent representatives of this category and of these varietals. One doesn’t always have to break the bank to enjoy the wines from this land that stretches from Dijon to Lyon. This pair of wines are from Burgundy with love.

The hunt for California’s Holy Grail

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You think you need to travel to The Mecca of Pinot Noir to satisfy your appetite for the variety? Well, I have news for all of you starving wine lovers. Though it is hard to deny that a week in Beaune, France would do wonders for the wine soul, I can point to so many places in California where Pinot Noir has gone to the next level. Where? Could it be the Russian River Valley, the Anderson Valley, Sonoma Coast? While those places do indeed have some of America’s very best Pinots, today I’d like to talk about the Santa Lucia Highlands.

History tells us that the earliest plantings in this AVA took place in the 1790’s, but it was not until the 1980’s and 1990’s that the area was re-discovered by farming families: Pisoni, Franscioni, Manzoni, Boekenoogen and others. Today there are many artisan productions proving this area’s potential for greatness. At the forefront of the movement is Bernardus, whose single vineyard Pinot Noirs are nothing short of spectacular. While Proprietor Ben Pon had been known for developing a strong case for Bordeaux blends (Marinus) out of Carmel Valley, his more recent launch of Pinot Noir is grabbing  attention from the top critics in the wine world. Wine publications such as the Wine Spectator, The Wine Advocate and the Wine Enthusiast, have given the wines superb accolades and high scores.

In my recent tastings I was really wowed by the 2011 single vineyard offerings. The  Soberanes shows great balance and trueness to the varietal. The Sierra Mar takes the varietal on a darker fruit journey and is pretty delicious. The Pisoni is scary good and so young that it could take a year of two before it is ready, though one could roast a leg of lamb and be pretty happy with this wine. The Garys’ is complete and distinctive as it offers a more savory personality. My very favorite is the Rosella’s. This wine is so spectacular that I could easily turn away a fine Gevrey-Chambertin and pour this one in its place. Gentle and bright, yet deceptively powerful, the wine just stays, stays and stays on the palate. It may now be the time to invoke a new saying, “Can Burgundy rival America’s best single vineyard Pinot Noir?”

The Gorgeous 2012 Oregon Pinot Noirs

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I am so incredibly excited! About what, you ask? The 2012 Oregon Pinot Noirs, a vintage the Wine Spectator called, “Ideal conditions produced generous wines; not over the top.” The magazine rated the vintage 92-95 points. I am on a mission to taste 50 or more of the current releases from some of the best wineries in the state. This process will take a couple of months. I will have a full report by the first of July. The following wineries are among my hit list: A to Z Wineworks, Adelsheim, Argyle, Chaehalem, Domaine Serene, Elk Cove, King Estate, Ponzi, Rainstorm, RouteStock and Seven Hills Winery. I have a few others that I will include as well. So what about recent vintages?

Oregon is one of the wine world’s most marginal growing regions. Over the past four decades, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris have been the stars, especially in the Willamette Valley. Even adding to the fun are the growers and vintners themselves. If any of you have ever spent quality time with these folks you will have learned that they can be cagey, cantankerous and collaborative. If you are not into it, they won’t even acknowledge your presence (I am only kidding here). But one thing that is undeniable is that the Oregon wine folks are super passionate about what they do. The result is: they live in a growing region that is reserve for the strongest souls in the wine biz. Potentially, the Willamette Valley can have some really difficult vintages. Hearts are anxious and spirits are strong as each harvest comes into view.

I have tasted some 2010’s and 2011’s and there are so many very good wines. The 2011’s are by and large a bit leaner and reticent of recent years. As I begin to taste the 2012’s I am really liking them. The first few have come across a pleasingly plump, yet nicely balanced. Yes, this promises to be a vintage to remember. Seems those guys at the Wine Spectator are very much on target! My current favorite for all to try is the 2012 Argyle. The wine is so pretty and ready to enjoy. This wine is a precursor of what is to come. Stay tuned, you may even be able to forget about Burgundy for a while… Well, maybe not. For the time being, 2012 Oregon Pinots will be the envy of the marketplace. By the way,  May is Oregon Wine Month, wouldn’t this be a great way to celebrate?