Oregon Pinot Noir

Showing off its multifaceted dimensions


Last year I was fortunate to attend a seminar here in New York City entitled, “The Multiple Personalities of Oregon Pinot Noir.” It was in part responsible for my essay on vintage variation, which I think is worth a read. The core of the day’s event consisted of a series of three blind tastings that were to highlight the various elements that come into play while forming the character of each wine: site, vintage and winemaking techniques.

Each session was significantly blind in that we, the participants, knew nothing about the wines, beyond the fact that they were Oregon Pinots. For the first flight, we knew the vintages and were encouraged to guess which wine was the 2007 and which was the 2008, or in one case, the 2009. The second flight consisted of 2007 and another vintage. Here we were encouraged to guess what the other vintage might have been, as well as which vintage we preferred, with bonus points for observations on how winemaking might be tempering some of those differences.

The third and final flight of wines was of a single vintage and we tasted them mostly for fun, though trying to group them into stylistic camps if we could.  Easier said than done, but read on to find the results.
Related Imagery
The formal tasting

Held in New York's own City Winery.

Winemakers pour the wines and lead the discussions

Flight 1

With this first flight, it was obvious which of each pair was the 2007. This is a well-known, relatively high acid vintage that is on the leaner side with decidedly redder fruit than many vintages in Oregon. Interestingly, when one looks at the chart for heat accumulation during the growing season, 2007 not only comes out above 2008, it also beat the averages for the periods 1961-1990 and 1971-2000. So why the green, lean character then?

While 2007 was far from the coolest vintage on record, it does hold the record for the earliest harvest of the past decade, and a harvest marred by rain at that. Thus was born a vintage with wonderful fruit that just has difficulty expressing itself. Think of the wines as having missed high school!

In comparison, 2008 was a long, if cool, growing season that allowed the grapes to mature slowly with slightly lower sugars and higher acidities than had become the norm for Oregon. In fact, it was a classic Oregonian vintage and has produced poised, fresh-balanced wines. In two of these three pairings, I preferred the 2008 to the corresponding 2007, though the Eyrie wines were very close in the end.

2007 Eyrie Old Vine Reserve
On the nose this is smoky, loamy and very soil-driven, with rhubarb and cranberry fruit showing incipient sweetness and gentle forest floor accents. Bright and very middle weight in the mouth with a pure, elegant feel and crisp texture that sees light red fruit notes accented by soil-driven flavors that are supported by relatively high acids. 91pts

2009 Eyrie Old Vine Reserve
Super sweet and fruity on the nose with a grapey, cherry fruit note and sandy soil note serving as the base here. This gets a touch jammy with floral top notes. Very well-integrated in the mouth with bright, juicy, mineral-accented raspberry fruit. This ends with good length and is tipped with a gentle soil spice element right through the finale. 90pts

2007 Bethel Heights Estate Flat Block Reserve
Perfumed on the nose with a gentle layer of wood spice, topped with restrained fruit that is rich in sage, mint, herb and floral elements. Nice and bright in the mouth with good rich raspberry flavors presented with an easy texture that makes this delicate. A nice cherry pit finale.  88pts

2008 Bethel Heights Estate Flat Block Reserve
Very floral and fairly mineral on the nose with light fruit and a gentle tree bark element. Very supple in the mouth with superb integration and nice fruit, though the mid-palate is a bit flat. The wine gains some volume in the mouth with green herbal background notes that add complexity to the nice core of pure red fruits. This really has mouthwatering acids and crisp tannins on the long finish. 90pts

2007 Penner-Ash Willamette Valley
Earthy and rich with forest floor, balsamic notes over a lightly green-shaded core of mulberry fruit that gains savory depth with air. Round and fairly tannic in the mouth, giving this a rather muscular feel that is enhanced by the wine’s noticeable density on the palate, though it remains lighter-bodied. The fruit here is juicy and leaning towards the blackberry end of the spectrum, though it is a bit clipped on the finish. 88pts

2008 Penner-Ash Willamette Valley
This is decidedly more fruit-driven on the nose with black cherry fruit topped with floral and wood spice notes. On the palate, this has the same noticeable tactile element that adds weight here as it does with the 2007, though there is a more pronounced wood sweetness and spice note here to the juicy berry fruit. The sweetness is nicely cut on the finish by the zippy acids that give this a lingering sweet/sour quality. 91pts

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Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: gforce70
    605038 18

    Why nothing from Sokol Blosser?

    Apr 06, 2011 at 1:46 PM

  • Wheres Adelsheim??? Domaine Serene???

    Apr 06, 2011 at 5:19 PM

  • Snooth User: Cindy6
    119599 3

    One of the BESTpinots Ive had is Medici 2004 East Block

    Apr 06, 2011 at 7:16 PM

  • Snooth User: vinsider
    541543 48

    My 2 cents, the best are Domaine Serene and Stoller

    Apr 06, 2011 at 10:06 PM

  • There are soooo many quality pinot noirs it would take a visitor at least a month of tasting to sample them all. I've tasted only about 25 of them, but I can tell you this: the 08 Wy'East Reserve, at just 39.00 a bottle is at the very top of my list. I've tasted this one since April 2010 when it was very acidic and hard for me to drink - but had real potential. But two weeks ago (mid March 2010) it had softened considerably, and was now beautifully balanced and carried it's intense wild cherry flavors all the way to a long finish! This is a wine to drink now - but it will easily cellar for 5-10 years!

    Apr 06, 2011 at 11:28 PM

  • Snooth User: MSG3003
    71735 15

    I find something curious about the way folks from outside the NW talk about Oregon Pinots - as if the AVAs are not distinct, relevant, descriptive. Even the flights are curious here - so many Willamette Valley (non vineyard specific, non AVA specific) wines. Penner-Ash makes a nice WV Pinot but it doesn't hold a candle to the Shea Vineyard Pinot. Ribbon Ridge AVA's Pinots are distinct from the generally leaner Dundee Hill wines. There appears to be a bit of apples and plums comparisons here. We would never see such comparisons of Sonoma and Santa Ynez Valley wines categorized simply by their variety (Syrahs of California!).

    BTW, I missed the Archery Summit and Bergstrom from the tasting. The other suggestions from commenters are notable too.

    Apr 07, 2011 at 1:56 AM

  • he reports on what he was given, thanks to those that added Oregon wines for consideration.

    Apr 07, 2011 at 1:13 PM

  • Snooth User: redwine89
    503255 74

    You really need to visit Stoller Vineyards, they make a fantastic Pinot Noir, we serve the "JV" Pinot and it doesn't get the recognition it deserves.

    Apr 07, 2011 at 7:07 PM

  • Silver Falls with out a doubt

    Apr 16, 2011 at 11:03 AM

  • Greg,
    Thanks for the great article on Oregon Pinots. The;re really a "hidden gem" for most oenophiles. There are so many small producers making great wine, but difficult to find outside of Oregon. Last yesr I had the opportunity to spend harvest at Youngberg Hill and Dobbes Family winery.It was a wonderful experience to see their passion for Pinot. Keep up the great articles and keep talking about Oregon Pinots
    Mark Goldberg

    Apr 19, 2011 at 4:33 PM

  • I remember buying Bethel Heights from a barn when they first started for $9 a bottle. I don't remember particulars, other than I liked the wine well enough to buy it. They have com along way. Oregon wine tasting is a fun experience.

    May 26, 2011 at 2:06 PM

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