My Vine Spot
What Oregon, particularly the Willamette Valley, has achieved with Pinot Noir in such short time is no easy feat. It’s a great American wine story of hard-work, chance, sacrifice, hope, passion, risk, and success. Oregon’s modern wine era began in the 1960’s with a group of young men who all had a few things in common. They had a European experience, attended UC Davis, and were into cool-climate viticulture. Most of them had also fallen in love with the finicky, heart-break grape, Pinot Noir and sought the perfect place outside of Burgundy, France, to grow it. Burgundy was the benchmark, however. At the time, California –from north to south -- was considered too warm for (Burgundian style) Pinot Noir. The relatively cool-climate coastal-influenced regions we know today were largely unfounded back then. This group of young men were also discouraged from growing Pinot Noir (or other cool climate varieties) in a damp, cool, and wholly unproven place like Oregon – where, by the way, nothing wine wise was going on.
The Reverse Wine Snob
Living in the Midwest, I have to admit that I had pigeonholed Oregon a bit. However, sitting down to a tasting of 13 different wines, I realized that the breadth of wine being produced here is almost startling. Everything from Vermentino to Pinot Gris to Albarino to Chardonnay to Syrah to Tempranillo to Riesling and many more. In other words, much, much more than Pinot Noir.
One of the wineries leading this charge into other varietals is Abacela and we were fortunate to have owner Earl Jones with us at the dinner to talk about their wines. Having previously reviewed their excellent Tempranillo (Abacela Estate Tempranillo 2007 - A Myriad of Multi-Dimensional Flavors) I correctly deduced that we were in for a treat...
Just 12 hours after arriving home from a trip to Croatia and Italy, I jumped on a train en route to NYC for the Snooth People’s Voice Awards (PVA). After two weeks of intensive wine, food, and traveling I was admittedly jet-lagged, full, and tired, but I wouldn’t have passed this opportunity up for anything.
My jet lag quickly changed to a rush of adrenaline at the realization I was back home–so to speak. The first dinner, located at Peking Duck House, was sponsored by the Oregon Wine Board with a lineup of wines that included many of my favorite Oregon producers, including Soter, Stoller, Abacela, and Argyle, among others. I was welcomed with a glass of a standout sparkling wine–the 2009 Soter Brut Rosé...
Vine Sleuth Uncorked
The spirit of collaboration seems to be alive and well among Oregon wineries, and this shone through during our dinner at the Peking Duck House accompanied by Oregon wines.
Earl Jones of Abacela, Jim Bernau of Willamette Valley Vineyards, and Brian O’Donnell of Belle Pente each shared about their own wineries throughout dinner, but each also shared much more about the state’s wine production as a whole. They talked about the variety in weather, topography and soil type, among other things in the different areas of Oregon. They shared about different philosophies in winemaking. And they all talked about a respect for the earth and its resources, and farming in sustainable ways...
Benito’s Wine Reviews
One blog post can't contain everything that we experienced at this dinner. You'd really need to write a book to truly communicate all of the tasting notes, background details, and stories shared that evening. One I will mention is that Brian O’Donnell talked about the winemaker Jimi Brookes who died before harvest at the tender age of 38. Six other Oregon winemakers pitched in and devoted one day per week to make sure that all of the grapes got picked and processed properly, and a trust was set up for his young son. You'll find similar stories around the wine producing regions of the world, but Oregon is unique in America for being mostly comprised of this particular communitarian group of small family wineries that help each other out...
It was our first night in New York City, where a group of 20 wine writers from around the country gathered in the back room of a Chinese restaurant in Manhattan. First to taste were the incredible, age-worthy Barolos and Barbera di Astis of Scarpa Winery out of Piedmont, Italy. After a short break, the tables were re-set with fresh glasses that were filled with the wines of Oregon. Being an Oregonian whose heart belongs to Oregon wine, this was the event of events for me–it was the one I was most looking forward to. With a true affinity and passion for the wines produced in Oregon, I was excited and proud to have the wines of my home state presented to and tasted by some of the top wine writers in the U.S. I had no doubt I’d soon be reading comments in their blogs like those previously pointed out...
Sure, there were Pinot Noirs, and they were very nice, but the real eye openers for me were the white wines, with several varietals represented. At the risk of over-generalizing, I must say there was a consistent level of quality and freshness to the various whites we tasted, each having the good level of acidity required to balance out the fruit and structure, and tie the components together. If you like great Sangiovese as much as I do, and therefore good acidity in your wine, than you need to check out the wines of Oregon.
Of the first white wine flight, I found both the racy Abacela Albarino 2012 and the beautiful Belle Pente Pinot Gris 2009 worked perfectly with the asian cuisine. Each was slightly richer than I would have expected but I learned that 2009 was a warm year in Oregon and that Belle Pente prefers Alsace riesling in style to that of Friuli so naturally his Pinot Gris has riper sugar levels.