Region of the Year 2013
Sometimes wine requires a fresh approach
Oregon’s Pinot Noirs have achieved such success that they threaten to define the entire state, even though they mostly come from the Willamette Valley, admittedly Oregon’s most important wine producing region. I am tempted to suggest that the Willamette Valley be Snooth’s Region of the Year 2013 based on the strength of their Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, and Chardonnay, all world class. Just as there’s more to the Willamette valley than Pinot Noir, there’s more to the state than the Willamette Valley so I’m thrilled to announce Oregon as Snooth’s Region of the year!
Yes, we know that Oregon’s Pinots have taken their rightful place among the world’s finest but have you tasted Oregon’s whites lately? I can’t think of another region that is producing such a compelling collection of pure, vibrant, varietally correct wines that excite the palate and please the pocketbook. I taste Riesling, and find Oregon’s to be among the most interesting. I taste pinot Gris, and Oregon’s offering s come out on top, and then the same thing happens with Chardonnay. To be sure most of these examples do come from the Willamette Valley, but not all. Riesling from the Rogue Valley or Umpqua catch my attention, as does Albarino from the Umpqua, and Tempranillo as well for that matter. Let’s remember that this is not a nod simply for Oregon’s Pinots. We all love those wines, they are worthy of notice, and they receive plenty.
Today we are celebrating Oregon’s diversity and their emergence in particular as the country’s top source for white wines, which given their cool climate and the preference in many parts of the country for freshness in their white wines, is not at all surprising. Recent vintages have played into this style well and winemakers have become more comfortable forging their own paths with these varieties instead of trying to create the next German Riesling, Californian Chardonnay, or Alsatian Pinot Gris.
As with Pinot Noir, Oregon has found their own way with these varieties. They have done so largely without the weight of expectations and outside investment looming over them. Free to do what they felt was best with the fruit they harvested. There wasn’t much money in it anyway so why not do what you love instead of the best product for the market. Now to be honest there was the Oregon Pinot Gris phenomenon of the last decade or so. A time when such a wine could be reasonably expected to have a little too much sugar for my palate, making it perfect for the wider marketplace, but it seems to me that those days are fading into the past.
It seems as though most Oregon Pinot Gris today is drier than they were five or ten years ago, and even the Rieslings seem to be firmer, if not drier with better balancing acidity. Perhaps it’s just the past few vintages forcing the hands of winemakers, but whatever the cause the results are wines that have never been better. I know that when I look for a domestic white wine, more often than not I reach for something from Oregon. Congratulations to all of you who have worked so hard and achieved so much. Your wines not only offer tremendous pleasure to so many, they also have convinced many around the world that the USA is capable of producing world class wines across the red and white spectrum!
What follows are some of my Oregon tasting highlights from the past year. It’s worth noting on the character of the vintages here which might better help to frame the comments that follow.
2012 is and will be a great vintage that enjoyed a warm and dry growing season. Across the state the fruit was ripe yet fresh, riper in many places than previous vintages, which could cause some wines to show early appeal.
2011 Arguably the greatest vintage in the Willamette Valley over the past two decades. Low yields and a long, dry growing season combined to produce rich, powerful and age worthy wines.
2010 - An early season ended on a cool and damp note producing wines with lower alcohols and higher acids than is typical. Whites in particular are very vibrant and fresh and should age well on their acids.
2009 - A very successful vintage that could produce rather fruity and powerful wines though this was an abundant vintage in which some produced less concentrated if fruity wines
2008 - Wines marked by a cool vintage, though it was dry enough to allow for extended hang time. Many wines are smaller in scale though they show good flavor intensity and complexity.