On a Friday in mid-April a group of veteran wine tasters come upon a table of Oregon Pinot Noir laid out beneath the white neon wash of light in the LCBO sensory lab. Most are more than duly impressed. One extreme professional refers to the line-up as the greatest grouping ever assembled for a VINTAGES release. Roger that straight from the shoulder VINTAGES assessment.
Related – Sonoma gaps and single vineyards
The quaternary Oregon Pinot Noir contingent stands out like a fantastic four in a justice league of second tier super heroes. The rest of the Pacific thematic from Oregon and Washington is filled with average to good examples, the best of which are the A to Z Wineworks Chardonnay and the Unbroken Bordeaux Blend from Horse Heaven Hills in Washington. The act of trying to assay these wines invites California thoughts, especially with Sonoma County Pinot Noir so latterly fixated upon by personal hermeneutic. Those who sell you on the idea that Oregon is becoming like California have never truly immersed themselves into the underground Willamette salinity and ancient riverbed imparting minerality. Nor do they intuit that no two wines from Sonoma County are the same. “The multeity of style and the illimitable viticultural approach illustrates how Sonoma’s 16 AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) are a study in variegation and variance.”
California dreaming aside, let’s shift our thoughts back to Oregon. More than anywhere else in the diaspora where the Burgundy expatriate is re-produced, the Pinot Noir from out of the Willamette Valley transmogrifies the parataxis of French narration. It understands that to repeat a note can be an enrichment, not an exhaustion. Oregon doesn’t merely resemble Burgundy, it actually exceeds it.
In Ontario we consider specific Niagara sub-appellations as capable of narrating a Beaune fictive, including those from the Benches of Beamsville and St. David’s. Prince Edward County’s limestone viaduct of geology and Burgundian geography is always part of the wine country Ontario Pinot Noir discussion. Central Otago and other New Zealand regions can be given due genetic consideration, as can very isolated parcels in Alsace, the Western Cape, the Mornington Peninsula and the Ahr. In the case of Oregon vs. Burgundy, ask Norman Hardie, Thomas Bachelder, Will Predhomme or Nicholas Pearce. They will tell you that it is most certainly not Niagara and while neither are Burgundy, it is the former where the closest comparisons can be made.
I reviewed the four Pinot Noir coming through VINTAGES on April 30th. They are all worth the investigation and two are exceptional. To the purpose of expanding on the west coast leitmotif I have added a white from Oregon, a sumptuous red blend from Washington and two big reds from California and B.C. Next weekend, head out for the west coast.
West coast offence Pinot, essentially Willamette Valley though labeled as Oregon. Rich and just a bit soil funky, with a slight rubber reductive quality in its still beating youth. The glass is very full when Pinot such as this is poured, the dial turned up and the sun seemingly always high in the sky. Will use of most of its energy in the next few years. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted April 2016 @
Gorgeously perfumed Pinot Noir from Domaine Danielle Laurent, crossing femininity with a lithe scorching and torching of earth. Ripeness is a virtue, the road is full of bloody tension, “beauty walks a razor’s edge” and the partnership between fruit and tannin is rife with love. Big within correct and structured means. There have been others but this YC-WV is currently on my mind, to put aside and then “someday I’ll make it mine.” Perfect companion with which to take shelter from the storm. Drink 2017-2024. Tasted April 2016 @ @ @
So pretty and so very restrained, near tart and sweet but never going too close to either edge. Drinking this on a daily basis would be so easy to abide, with its ripe and slightly spicy berries, plums and mild citrus. Would expect it to turn tart or sour but it leans to mild tannin instead. Not necessarily a wine for 10 years but exceptional for five. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted April 2016 @ @
The two messengers are winemakers Louis-Michel Liger-Belair and Max Marriott and somehow they have crafted a most amazing Pinot Noir from out of the potentially disastrous tale of three harvests: fruit picked before, during and then after the typhoon. The fruit comes from four AVA’s and eight vineyards: Eola Amity – Eagle Crest, Eola Springs, Popcorn; McMinnville – Hyland; Willamette Valley – Croft; Yamhill Carlton – Fairsing, Gran Moraine, Stardance. A Côte de Nuits ringer in Willamette clothing, multi-terroir dependent and singing the amalgamated praises of its serious sense of place. Whatever combination of hill, nook and petite colline this was culled from has fed the Burgundy machine. The sweetness is palpable but created by soil and tannin. Quite seamless, not to mention travelling along underfoot with the Willamette salinity rolling along in the ancient river below. Terrific Pinot Noir with stuffing and age ahead ability. Does it succeed in “pursuing transcendent Pinot Noir through gilded terroir?” I’d say yes. Drink 2017-2024. Tasted April 2016 @
Plenty of grape extract feigning sweetness, more exuberant on the palate then in the aromatics. A composed and highly concentrated Chardonnay with accents, spice and extra flavour provided by the barrel plans. Crafty and well-executed in craft. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted April 2016 @ @ @
Cabernet Sauvignon (43 per cent), Merlot (37), Malbec (19) and Cabernet Franc (11) fill in the baritone blend, unbroken, as in spirit, as opposed to thinking in terms of single-varietal. Though the warmth and wood are gainful and very much a part of the chain, the fruit and the grain are interwoven, fully integrated, spice regaled and determinate. Great red fruit, graphite and grip. So very impressed with the spirit of this Horse Heaven Hills red. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted April 2016 @ @ @
The five-varietal classic Bordeaux blend in 2013 is Merlot (41 per cent), Cabernet Sauvignon (30), Cabernet Franc (18), Malbec (8) and Petit Verdot (3). Together they seamlessly amalgamate in 36 per cent new barrel and (64) second fill for 19 months. All tolled the group is characterized as not shy. There is a squaring of deep, deep intent, dark, dark pitchy hue and full, full body. Phenolically ripe and properly volatile on the edge of the precipice with bringing it acidity. Tastes of berries and brine, rare venison and caramelized plantain. The more abstract flavour profile is described as a ferric welling with hematic humour. For now take one deep breath of the beauty and wait two years with the rest for full enjoyment. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted April 2016 @ @
Hefty, rich and spicy Cabernet with yet raging, formidable tannins. Caky, savoury, currant, graphite and cassis laden fruit. Some liquorice, peace stone and dipped chocolate berries. All of everything, the above, earth and sky. The fountains and the cup runneth over. Hedonistic, oak behemoth of exceptional mountain vineyard fruit overlooking the Alexander Valley. Drink 2018-2025. Tasted April 2016 @ @
Good to go!