Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Got $30-$40 to waste? Buy some Oregon Pinot.

OK, sometimes subtlelty is not my greatest strength. Allow me to enlarge on the headline above.

My tasting group met last week to taste six brown bagged wines. Only one of us, Jeffrey Porter of Drink Eat Love fame, knew what the wines were as he organized the tasting. Though I knew these were all wines made from Pinot Noir, I did not posit a successful guess as to what region they were from. With two exceptions, they tasted very alcoholic, overoaked, and sweet. So I came to the conclusion that we were tasting CA Pinot Noir. To be more precise I posited that they were all from Santa Barbara county. The tasting was very educational, or rather, an affirmation of what I suspected of most Oregon PN: they are over-priced, increasingly unbalanced, undrinkable wines. Nonetheless, there were a few winners, and I am glad that Jeff picked Oregon PN as a theme since I have not been as up on current releases as I should be.


Brandborg Pinot Noir Umpqua Valley 2005

Maybe this was an '06? I don't remember. Mixed small berry red fruits and dark fruits on the nose lead to a fresh, fruity palate that is plenty forward and refreshing. As this was the first wine we tasted, and did not know the theme, I was thinking '05 Bourgogne Rouge or Marsannay. It was a clear favorite for me, and a re-affirmation because my favorite Oregon PN I drank last year was a bottle of Shady Grove Pinot Noir (vintage '02?), also from Umpqua Valley. At roughly $20 a pop for both of these wines, I'll have to seek out more wines from Umpqua. They're doing it right.

Stoller Pinot Noir 'Dundee Hills' 2004

While obviously heavier and a bit clumsier than the wine above, there was still some semblance of balance. Plum, spice and very new world PN on the nose, leading to a slightly woody, spicy dark fruited palate. This was the wine that made me think of guessing Santa Barbara PN. Not bad.

Chehalem Pinot Noir 'Ridgecrest' 2005
Charred embers and muddled dark fruit on the nose. Equally unfocused initially on the palate, the wine opened up a bit and became more drinkable, if in an 'I'll finish my glass if this is what I'm being served' kind of way.


The other four wines were just not doing it for me. Too oaky, alcoholic, jammy, sweet, etc, etc. I wouldn't pay $10 for them, let alone $30-$40. Here are the other wines Sineann Pinot Noir 'Shindler Vineyard 2006', Methuen Pinot Noir 2005, Raptor Ridge Pinot Noir Williamette Valley 2006.

Thankfully the evening was bookended by some refreshing Greek whites, the best of which was an '06 Santorini that I had never seen before which was terrific. I did not jot down the name and, even for a Greek wine, its amount of letters and syllables posed a formidable challenge to the memory. There was a crisp, earthy cava from i Raventos and a delicious Cremant de Jura from Berthet-Bondet.


David McDuff said...

Even sadder, the Chehalem will set you back more like 50 bucks out here on the right coast. And the Sineann's are crazy alcohol bombs, all hedonistic fruit with nothing to back it up. I haven't tried anything from Umpqua yet; I'll have to keep on the lookout.

Joe M. said...

Wow - Chehalem at $50. That is sad. Definitely look out for the Umpqua PN's. If you ever spend time in Washington, DC I know that the Shady Grove PN is represented, though I'm not sure of its availability and distribution.

Brooklynguy said...

oh no...that ain't right. i haven't read through your old posts yet, but if these are basically your first over $30 Oregon pinots, then i can see why you'd feel this way. but who choose these wines? i'm not down with the fruit bomb thing at all, and i think that oregon pinots can be some of the best american wines - honestly. WHICH wines though, that's the question. so here are a few producers that you might try, if you get the opportunity: Thomas, St Innocent, Belle Pente, Brick House, and Cristom. If after that you no like, then fine.

Joe M. said...

BK dude... I hear what you're saying. But the fact remains that most of my experience with Oregon PN in the $30-$50 price point (a lot more than what I tasted a few weeks ago) has been wines of low acidity, high oak, often times of a very toasty quality. Christom makes very good PN, agreed. Worth the price if you like big PN's (not me). But there are so many wines that strike me as more interesting, with better balance, more opportunities for food pairing, and better opportunity for aging, that cost A LOT less than the median price of Oregon PN. When I start seeing more good Oregon PN's that cost $20-$30, and more great ones from $30 and up, then I'll change my tune.