Saturday, October 11, 2008

1998 Oregon Pinot Noir

We hear it all the time, 'sure, drink this wine now, but it will age beautifully.' Time in bottle is obviously important for big wines to settle down a bit and to integrate some of their more intense tannins. Fans of Pinot Noir know that despite the fact that Pinot Noirs are not generally considered big wines, they can benefit immensely from some bottle age. The aromas become more complex, the mid-palate fills out and the finish becomes softer, smoother and more complex. It is only with time that Pinot Noir reveals all of its subtle complexity and truly can become silky and ethereal. Few people would argue this, and because most casual wine drinkers are never exposed to aged Pinot Noir it can be a style of wine that eludes them. It is very rare, even in Pinot-centric Oregon, unless you're well connected or a well known member of the media to find an opportunity to partake in a horizontal tasting. A tasting of this style features one vintage and many producers as opposed to the more traditional vertical tasting featuring one winery, or in many cases, one specific wine, from many vintages. I enjoy both and am happy to attend nearly any event of this kind. There is no substitute for learning in this fashion. It can inform about a vintage, about styles of wineries and the ability of their wines to age.

1998 was a much maligned vintage around the world although some overlooked wines proved to be very solid values for drinking soon after release. Oregon was an exception, the vintage proved to be a very good one although many people ignored the wines assuming they too had some of the rain and general lighter styles found elsewhere. (More on this unfortunate phenomenon at a later date)
One of my favorite stores in Portland, John's Marketplace, has an incredible selection of beer, the best I've ever seen, and a passionate wine steward named Mr. Mike. He presented the tasting out of his own cellar, with no product to sell, just to offer an educational opportunity. That is a major reason retailers and wineries don't often host tastings of this sort, they no longer have much, if anything, to sell. Lucky me, for the low, low price of $10 I got to try seven 1998 Pinot Noirs.
In order of presentation -
McKinlay Special Selection - essentially a reserve bottling that now appears every year. The wine was clearly not fined or filtered and the bottle had some fine sediment (it was not decanted). There was clearly a browning edge although the core of the wine was still red. There was some dried fruit, perhaps a tad stewy, but good purity as well. Still vibrant acids and good fruit, it tasted much better than it smelled. The finish is long, with a bit of orange zest, and dried cherry with aromas, impressions of clay and brick. A solid wine, but for me a bit past prime.
McKinlay Ladd Hill - a single vineyard on Parrett Mtn east of Newberg. Same color presentation, but with a sweeter cherry nose and not so much of the dried fruit. Wow, that's spectacular! Deep red cherry notes on the palate with good acid and subtle tannin. Not quite as long as the first, but it is delicious and much more drinkable. Great sweet forest floor note, not tired at all, just showing a lot. Gorgeous fruit, reminds me of Savigny Les Beaune or Chambolle Musigny in Burgundy. Wow!
Broadley Claudia's Choice - from a four acre plot located mid-slope in the vineyards, mostly Pommard clone planted in 1983. Unfined and unfiltered and aged in French oak. Much darker fruit here than in the first two wines, with oak also more noticeable - there is a subtle, sweet cedar note. Similar color to first two wines, but with more clarity and definition. Still a tad tight on the finish - tannin mostly - but very fine delicate tannin. Some plum and even some meatiness with a note of funk - not off-putting, but clearly not the sweet forest floor from Ladd Hill. Some time left for this wine - Broadley's website agrees, says the '98's will be good through 2010.
Ken Wright Guadalupe - from Yamhill-Carlton this was planted in 1989 and is all Wadenswill clone. The wine was poured from magnum, which is significant because the bottle contains by volume, two bottles of wine, and the maturation process is slower. This was clearly the most youthful wine of the night with just a hint of an edge of color and oak on the nose, even a hint of vanilla and lovely, sweet cherry fruit. The wine had great texture, seemed a bit short on the finish, then it returns, but the resurgence seemed to be more wood than fruit. The wine is clearly very good, but not amazing - except for the purity of fruit in the middle. Very enjoyable now, if somewhat straightforward/lacking complexity one might expect from ten year old Pinot Noir. Certainly no complaints, I would love to try this out of a normal sized bottle for comparison. Is the magnum the reason for its apparent simplicity? Or is the wine just not that deep or intriguing?
Cameron Abbey Ridge - the oldest vines were planted in 1976 on this 22 acre plot in the Dundee Hills. Cameron makes very traditional, indigenous yeast fermented wines that remind me of old world wines. Earthy, slightly funky nose, 'classic Cameron', with a slight edge. The wine is still chewy and clearly has some time left ahead of it. The wine is very intense, focused and very French. With a bit more time in glass, it actually became delicious and even exhibited a 'sweetness' on the nose. While the wine softened, it never became elegant - and never will - but it did provide pleasure and would hold up well to some fairly big, fall comfort food. Grilled game would be fantastic.
Broadley Marcile Lorraine - from 2 acres located at the top of the vineyard. above the block for Claudia's Choice. Vines were also planted in 1983 and offer a blend of Pommard and Wadenswill clones. All new French oak used for elevage. Slight edge, not showing much, still tannic but the fruit appears to be mostly gone. Drinkable, but nothing exciting. No real pleasure in the wine for me, even a note of iodine(?). There is some hint of dark fruit that nearly appeals, but is too faded for me.
Bethel Heights Southeast Block - From Eola-Hills, near Salem. The block is a six acre section planted in 1979 and is 100% Pommard clone planted on its own rootstock (more on this at a later date). A note of cheese on the nose, the wine was at once closed and intense, lively but a tad faded. The acidity was still bright, with subtle tannin and notes of wild violets and earth tones. The wine was incredibly dark and rich. I never decided if I loved the wine or was merely intrigued, but it was clearly a winner and seemed to have more time ahead of it. A full-bodied wine that could clearly stand up to some big food.

Overall a fascinating tasting - Mr. Mike says he plans to do a 1999 horizontal soon - here's hoping I'm in town because I want to be there.

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