Saturday, April 25, 2009

More 2007 Oregon Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir gets in the blood.  If you drink a good bottle of Pinot when it shows all it has to offer and the wine evolves and intrigues all the way through the bottle, it is nearly impossible not to get hooked.  However, trying to find Pinots in this state drives many away since it is the most mercurial wine around.  While it could be said that every bottle of 'real wine' (not that formulaic, over-manipulated plonk which has more in common with soda than a product of the vine) is like a snowflake (no two are alike) I defy most people to tell the difference.  A slight variation in fill level, tasting two bottles a week or two apart, having bottles from different storage conditions, and perhaps even the difference from the top of the barrel to the bottom, lead to potentially perceptible differences...good luck finding them.  Pinot Noir seems to change at the drop of the hat.  Deciding when to drink prized bottles of Pinot dominates conversation in certain circles, more so than discussions of when to drink any other style of wine. 
While Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, etc. change, evolve, and go through phases, I do not find that their true character ever becomes as muted and hard to find in the glass as Pinot's can.  There is no better grape to describe as lightning in the bottle.  Perhaps because it is a more delicate grape to begin with its 'dumb' periods are so much more noticeable.  Whatever the reason, more than a few people have finally thrown their hands up and quit buying Pinot Noir.  If a band you really like plays a bad show do you throw away their CD's?  Do you move their songs to trash in your iPod?  Of course not.  The finicky, flighty, fascinating grape's rewards are worth the risk of occasional disappointing lows.
I find that most Pinot Noirs drink well upon release and for the first six months or so after. That can change based on how long the wine rested in the winery.  After that, more serious versions tend to go into a quiet stage.  That can last for a year or more before the moping ends and the wine is ready to be social and engaging once more.  Go to tastings, talk to others about what drinks well now.  Don't be afraid to decant young Pinot Noir; let it breathe and have a back up bottle handy if the wine of choice is closed up like a sullen teen.  Don't throw it away, try it a day or two later...you may be pleasantly surprised.
Some more 2007's...
Evesham Wood Eola-Amity Hills 2007 - One of my favorite producers.  They make subtle Pinot, medium-bodied but full-flavored.  Earth, forest floor and good fruit mingle in their wines with a delicacy I do not often associate with this appellation.  I tasted this and fell in love immediately.  With all apologies to Oregon, this wine took me to the magic place of Burgundy, specifically villages level Savigny-Les-Beaune.  I bought four bottles and wish I had more.  that being said, the last taste I had was a bit odd, nearly fishy on the nose and closed.  The palate-feel was good, but the wine showed little and appeared a bit gritty on the finish.  I think it was a phase, and I will taste another bottle tonight...perhaps with a grilled ham and swiss after a long day at Jazz Fest.  The bottle from last night was improved, but still a bit mute on the nose.  At least the oddness was not in evidence.  Dusty, red cherries, like a country road on a warm spring day, dominate the palate and the finish lingers nicely.  the lively snap of acidity I found initially (in the fall) has softened and is broader and more welcoming because of it.  Still wish I had more...  $18-$20
Illahe Willamette Valley 2007 - According to their website, "Illahe is a Chinook Jargon word meaning 'earth', 'land', or 'soil'."  I have little experience with the winery and was pleased to see it included in a recent 2007 Pinot tasting I attended.  The winery is in Dallas, OR, due east of Salem; the Eola-Amity AVA is the closest.  Although the winery was not established until 2000, the vines were planted in 1983, relatively ancient by Oregon standards.  Aromas of oak were more obvious here than with any other wine that night.  I found a hint of 'marks-a-lot' pen too...but just a hint, and in a good way if that even sounds remotely possible.  Of course, I used to sniff mimeograph sheets in grade school.  Deep, dark fruit, impressively so for 2007, but it does not appear manipulated.  The wine is huge, in fact, by 2007 standards.  I don't love it, but it is a tasty bottle of wine for slurping, on the porch or at the table, at a reasonable price.  $20
Quercus Winery Harmonia Willamette Valley 2007 - Michael Beckley moved to Oregon from California and worked in the cellar at Domain Drouhin and then at Erath before striking out on his own.  He consults for other wineries but there is a rumor he is getting out of the business.  That's a shame.  I enjoyed the two previous vintages quite a bit, but this 2007 appears to be his masterpiece.  Quercus is the genus of oak used to make barrels, but you won't find any heavy wood usage here.  Pretty red color, with some smoke and some cherry, I found the aroma not quite closed, but seeming to have even more than it showed, which was substantial.  There was a clove note on the finish (not my favorite, but it worked here) with good acid and some fresh earth that arrived with time open.  For fans of lighter style Pinot Noir, this wine is delicious!  As I sipped my way through  a second glass, I found impressively round, juicy fruit, nearly creamy.  Wish I'd bought more...  $20-$23

Thursday, April 23, 2009

2007 Oregon Pinot Noir

First, let me be clear about the 2007 vintage.  There are issues for many reds, especially in the Willamette Valley, in particular Pinot Noir.  The growing season was relatively cool and rain arrived during harvest for many.  According to Ken Wright, it was the rainiest harvest he remembered (although 1984 could have been worse according to him).  The unfortunate 1995 vintage is second, but 5+ inches of rain fell during harvest in 2007, more than twice the amount in 1995.  Trucks were dripping juice as they drove down the road, grapes released juice with tiny amounts of pressure.  There was a lot of rose made in 2007.  However, the weather stayed cool and rot did not become epidemic (although at least one producer I spoke with said he lost 15-20% of his harvest at the sorting table due to rot issues).  Ken Wright says, "2007 was the most challenging vintage we've ever had."  However, he ended up pleased with the wines. Experience, more mature vines, and better technology helped make the vintage viable for all concerned.
The following quotes are taken from an Oregon Wine Press article by Hillary Berg, Dec. 2007 - David Paige (winemaker Adelsheim) says, "there are a lot of pretty wines."  Eric Hamacher says, "I am thrilled with the wines...it was a vintage about elegance."
I will reiterate my joy about the purity of the fruit, elegance of the wines, and potential expression of terroir, at the same time that I will admit that I would not want a cellar full of 2007 Oregon Pinot Noirs exclusively.  They tend to the lighter side, but I have found plenty of ripe fruit and beautiful acids in my exploration so far.  I do not find any heady alcohol as I did in many wines from 2006 and 2003 nor do I wonder whether any of these wines have Syrah in them as I did with many wines from the same vintages.
A quick aside: Not too long ago, I tasted a 2006 Joe Dobbes Pinot Noir (a reserve of some sort) that retailed around $50.  My notes?  "This is a great $15 bottle of Syrah."
So, If you love the big, extracted, monster styles of Pinot Noir avoid the 2007 vintage.  Try some, you may get lucky, but I doubt it.  However, if you love Pinot Noir for red fruit, acidity, and versatility with food, you will likely fall in love with the vintage.  
That being said, there will be some suspect examples of Pinot Noir since some winemakers will not know how to handle the vintage or may have been unwilling to sacrifice dubious juice to make the wine better  Stay tuned for plenty of Oregon Pinot Noir reviews here and further thoughts about the vintage.
Patricia Green writes that 6% of the vintage was sold off in bulk, compared to 2006 where all of the fruit was retained.  She also writes, "[t]here is an extreme level of purity in these wines."  I love pure fruit, ripe, intense, a bit like biting into a fruit 'Jelly Belly' jellybean selected with closed eyes, there is no mistaking the flavor.  I love their description of why vintages like 2007 show more terroir than other, bigger, riper, vintages.  "Sometimes though the vintage is so dominant that these subtle differences [between appellations/vineyard sites] can be obscured or dumbed down."  
The winery produced a very inexpensive 2007 Pinot Noir $13.50-$14.95/bottle - It was under a second label, Dollar Bills Only.  It was nearly translucent, and a bit bitter on the back end, but had a nice touch of earth and reminded me of a simple Bourgogne Rouge.  There was a bit of spice on the back end.  Overall, I found it a bit inelegant, but for the price it is fairly solid.
Matello 2007 - Marcus Goodfellow used to wait tables.  He has quickly staked out a soft spot in many Pinot Noir fans' hearts.  Little use of new oak, indigenous yeast fermentation and good sourcing contribute to that success.  I found his 2005's to be riveting and all the more impressive since he has only been at this for a few years.  His 2006's displayed amazing balance, remaining lithe and seemingly able to leap tall buildings at a single bound despite the general weight of the vintage.  Alas, total production is about 500 cases, so good luck finding it outside of Oregon.  (Hello out there, I'll need care packages on a regular basis here in New Orleans).  A bit cloudy in the glass, but no worries there.  Light, pretty fruit with an 'mmmmmm' inducing creamy mid-palate.  The lovely, red cherry fruit is lifted by fresh acidity; fine tannin on the back end keeps the wine focused.  The finish is persistent and thoroughly enjoyable.  I find this wine darn tasty.  $20
Brick House Select 2007 - All estate fruit from the biodynamically farmed vineyards in Ribbon Ridge.  Same color as Matello, but much higher toned - nostril-flaring actually.  The wine itself is deeper, with more bass notes.  Unfortunately, it was also less open and generally harder to evaluate.  I bought a few anyway since the producer is good and the wine seemed to be headed in the right direction.  $25
More in the next post...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Matt Kramer's Done It Again

I promise to quit harping on this subject at some point, but as he has not responded in any way and he continues to write up glowing reviews for 2007 Oregon wines I must revisit this from time to time. 
On April 5th Mr. Kramer posted the following: These wines don't need mask of aging in oak barrels.
I generally agree with, and support, limited use of oak, or even none at all, but that is not the point of addressing this article.  After bashing the 2007 vintage in the U.S. and Europe he has found a way to get very excited about some wines (see my earlier post).  
This article from Mr. Kramer celebrates perhaps my favorite Oregon Chardonnay, Inox from Chehalem.  He writes, of the 2007, "It is one of the best chardonnays to emerge from Oregon in recent years."   Again my gripe here is not that he finds some 2007 wines exciting but the dismissive way he dealt with the vintage in one forum, only to recommend wines from the same vintage without so much as a mea culpa.  It is unfair, misleading, and disingenuous to make broad, important sounding pronouncements as a journalist only to write about wines that ignore your own pontification unless you offer some explanation.  Shame on you Mr. Kramer.  

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Two Fantastic Red Values - Spain 2007

Sorry for the the lack of activity here lately - I am finishing up 6,000 miles of driving in the last 12 days in the process of returning to New Orleans.  I will miss the Northwest, especially through the summer, but the pull of family and the comfort of home proved too strong.  At least I am in time for French Quarter Fest and Jazz Fest!   
The last few weeks have included feverish activity to get the house packed and then hellacious driving - finally at an end today.  
As promised (threatened?) here come more wines from Jorge Ordonez.  The 2007 vintage for red wine in Spain appears to be an unusual one.  It is too early to make broad, sweeping, definitive pronouncements as the bigger, more serious versions won't be seen for some time; but I have found, through tasting approximately 25 value reds, that many regular favorites are not as exciting as in years past, while others I usually find to be serviceable but not exciting have prompted me to buy in quantity. 
Here are the two current favorites:
Borsao, Campo de Borja 2007 - Made from mostly Garnacha (Grenache) with some Tempranillo, this wine usually has a bit too much raw tannin/slightly hard edge in the first six to eight months of release for the weight of the fruit.  I generally prefer the 100% Garnacha little brother, Vina Borgia.  However, this vintage of Vina Borgia seemed a bit unfocused and maybe even a tad stewy, while the Borsao had lovely black pepper notes and gorgeous palate-feel.  There is enough structure to work well at the table with anything from roast chicken to grilled sausages, burgers, mushrooms or salmon, all from the grill.  The region is Campo de Borja, Spain's top source for Garnacha.  I bought a case, and have already had a couple of bottles and given a couple away...I hope there's still some available in New Orleans.  $9-$10
Campos Reales Tempranillo 2007 - This wine is never aged in oak and I often find it to be a bit light in texture and fruit for the structure offered.  Usually the nose is good, palate decent, but the finish always seemed a bit harsh to me.  I am being overly picky, but when you taste as many value wines as I do you get choosy about what you actually pay to bring into the house more than one bottle at a time.  The 2007 vintage here is brilliant.  It is still a medium-bodied wine, the palate is subtle, but the finish is marvelous offering plenty of juicy red fruit with more acid than tannin notes.  From La Mancha, a huge growing area with too much mass produced plonk, this is at a fairly high elevation (one key to success in the region) and comes from 30+ year-old vines.  I lovingly refer to it as the "Tree of Meat."
  The label has a red tree with all sorts of animals on it, all edible as far as I can figure.  The wine is nearly picture perfect; lighter than the Borsao and therefore better suited to chicken, pork, vegetables, baked or roasted, and perhaps salmon or tuna.  Grilled foods may be too much for it, think Chianti style pairings, but with much better fruit and drinkability than any Chianti at this price!  $7-$9
These are excellent wines for parties, Tuesday nights, or just because you want something to open that won't cost an arm and a leg.