As I sit here trying to come to some conclusion it occurs to me that perhaps I am going about this all wrong. I amafter all a wine snob. Yes, it’s true, I am biased and I know it. I am first and foremost a red wine drinkerso when I think of the best regions my thoughts automatically run towards things like Nebbiolo and Piedmont, PinotNoir and Burgundy, Syrah and the Rhone. It is a stretch for me to think of great regions for white wine before these reds and that’s just wrong, don’t you think?
Even when we come to the new world we are faced with Malbec and Mendoza, Zinfandel and the Dry Creek Valley, Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley, and of course Cabernet in Napa. Whither the whites? Sure there are some great regions for whites. Take last year’s 2012 Region of the Year; the Alto Adige
. It’s a region packed with great wines, red and white, which is why I selected it, and in hindsight it seems as though the power of their whites weighed heavily in my decision making process.
So this year once again I am faced with this task of selecting a region worthy of further indepth exploration in the coming year; based not on a single wine but multiple wines. Multiple wines that are world class at that. Think about that, a region that truly excels with multiple varieties. They’re rare to say the least. Rare because of climatic and geological conditions that create favorable conditions for specific varieties, the overlap between which can be limited. And also rare because of the power in the marketplace of combinations such as Napa Valley Cabernet. Even if Napa where the greatest place on earth to plant all varieties there still would be a preponderance of Cabernet. Simply put, there’s money in them there words.
For a region to be able to succeed with multiple varieties there has to either have been a long standing tradition of this type of planting, or the region needs to have the freedom to be less well defined in the marketplace than say a Napa Valley, intricately entwined as it is with a single variety. Is there such a region? A region that is evolving, and already producing exceptional wines across a range of varieties. Is there a region that has quietly been producing a nation's best white wines, developing a market while nobody was looking. Well in fact we were looking, but par for the course, we were all paying attention to their red wine.
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.
Intense and perfumed on the nose, with lime fruit framed by gardenia like floral notes; a suggestion of sweet vanilla and orange cream. Intense with super vibrant acids supporting really pretty ripe peach, lemon and green apple fruit that has a faintly candied edge. There's a little sugar here, but the intense acidity deftly whacks it to the ground and kicks it while it's down. The finish is all blazing citrus fruit riding a lightning bolt across a dry stony riverbed before smashing into a fruit basket filled with pears, apricots and tangerines topped with a hint of sweet spearmint. Maybe not the most complex Riesling out there but certainly one of the most fun. Shazaam! 93pts
Complex and intense floral and herb notes greet the nose followed by a touch of ginseng and thistle with an underlay of motor oil. Salty and vibrant on entry, this is very finely focused with real tension in the mouth. the flavors of lime blossom, jasmine and pineapple are well supported by the soft chalky minerality the acidity lends to the wine. this is notable clear and deep on the palate finishing with a flourish of dried herb, orange peel and lime pith on the long somewhat autumnal finish. 92pts
Bright and slightly creamy on the nose with passionfruit, guava, floral and peachy aromas that fill the glass. A little sweet at first then very light on its feet with lovely acidity that is fresh and taut yet well integrated. The fruit is a bit more gentle on the palate than the nose promises but this has lovely freshness to its lime, green apple and mandarin flavors that are underlain by a fine sandy quartz note, elegantly flowing into a long, mineral laden and green apple toned finish. 92pts
Classic Riesling on the nose with an initial touch of candle wax followed by gentle honey, baked apple, lime leaf, herb and stone aromas. Vibrant right from the get go, you get a sense of some sweetness here in the body on the tongue but this is acid driven from the first sip. Very fresh and pure in style with apple, pear with a somewhat savory and slightly salty cast to the flavors. This is absolutely zesty and nervous in the mouth. I’d love to see a little more complexity but the texture is wonderful with a hint of currant on the back end that drives onto the long clementine and mineral laced finish. 91pts
Dusty with some vitamin notes on the nose followed by a hint of banana and lots of polleny floral notes all wrapped around some custardy pineapple fruit. Just a hint of sweetness wraps around the acidity here and quickly subsides in a wave of tangy orange and lemon fruit that is framed with gentle pity bitterness. Rather light on its feet and transparent in the mouth gaining a lovely mineral basenote before yielding to a gently herb tinged and very clean slightly salty finish, this is completely engaging and wonderfully long. 91pts
Focused and a bit tight on the nose, there’s some lovely apricot and almond fruit on the nose here along with heather and pollen notes. Modestly sweet on entry with attractive meyer lemon flavors the acidity helps snap this to attention adding in lime peel and green apple flavors over a light raw almond note that plays very well with the fruit. The hint of sweetness here adds body to the mouth and reemerges on the moderately long finish bring some apricot notes to an otherwise mineral and citrus with, red grapefruit finish. Really well balanced and rather fruity but not frooty. 91pts
Wonderfully fragrant with an early hint of green anise seed adding complexity to the sweet lime, guava and slightly red fruited apple aromas. Slightly sweet and yet mineral on entry, theres lots of fresh apple and jammy citrus flavors here adding complexity as well. The acidity is well balanced so while this is noticeably sweet, it’s also attractively tart and fairly light on the palate even if it has some viscosity to it. The finish is long, a little creamy and touched with green melon and grapefruit flavors. Delightly fully easy to drink, this is delicious for those who prefer a sweeter style. 89pts
Sweet/tart on the nose with candied yet tart aromas of citrus framed with a woodsy almost vanilla note and some cherry candy elements. fairly dry in the mouth, this has plenty of body and comes off as feeling fairly powerful and rich while delivering a hint of apricot layered over deep mineral and slightly herbal flavors on the palate. Dusty and stoney with dried apple fruit and dried floral notes on the long, firm finish this is drinking awfully well today and deserves a pretty powerful dish to be paired with. Veal stuffed with a touch of apricot laced herbal stuffing and served with mushrooms in cream perhaps. 89pts
So crisp and fresh on the nose, you can almost smell Oregon here , earthy and slightly damp with aromas of crisp apples and creamy citrus notes all wrapped up in nuanced yeast and used wood aromas. On entry this is both fruity and focused gaining complexity and a subtle of richness of texture as it transitions through the mid-palate where some hazelnut and mineral nuance add their voices. The finish is fresh and crisp and like the nose offers up wonderfully pure fruit paired with an earthy core that speaks of perfectly ripe Chardonnay guided to be wine. 93pts
There's some obvious oak on the nose here along with a creamy base note upon which aromas of green apples, tart citrus and earthy nutty tones are layered. This is fabulous int he mouth with a great burst of ripe yet fresh fruit framed out with a bit of toasty and buttery oak but the wine remains bright, tense and light on its feet in the mouth. The wood treatment is well balanced for the fresh fruit with the tartness and slight hardness of the wine well balanced by the softening effects of the wood. Should improve over the short term at least but shows a fine synthesis of old world technique with new world fruit. 93pts
Complex on the nose if decidedly not fruit driven with lovely layers of older wood, earth, leesy floral tones and hints of stone accenting apple fruit that shows edges of dried lemon and orange pith. Medium bodied and elegant in the mouth with terrific clarity on the palate which mimics the nose with it's blend of mineral, white orchard fruit, light wood spice and slightly creamy leesy flavors. The wood spice pops a touch on the back end then yields to a lovely finish, long with citrussy accents over a gentle touch of wood. This shows lovely purity and balance. 92pts
Subtle and layered on the nose with an initial whiff of fresh oak fleshing out and gaining spice notes along with bright white fruit aromas. In the mouth this is elegance and well balanced it just glides across the palate with gently creamy and spicy oak influences adding support to the ripe pear and pineapple fruits that remain crisp in the mouth and through the rather lush and creamy finish. A bit much for my palate but really a fine showing in this style. powerful yet restrained. 91pts
Pretty and perfumed with floral and herbal top notes over a core of wood spiced quince and apple fruit. Rather light and transparent on entry, this is rather subtle in the mouth but at the same time it's also quite aromatic on the palate. There are gentle hints of bay leaf and vanilla over the core of mineral flecked apple fruit. There's a faint hint of tannins here that adds some grab to the mouth, making for a nice contrast to the general lightness of the wine, extending the pretty finish. The oak becomes slightly more obvious on the finish, though a bit more time in the bottle should help it to integrate perfectly. 89pts
Very pretty lessy/floral aromas greet the nose followed by jammy peach fruits and even a bit of red berry fruit with subtle hints of cream and licorice. rather medium full bodied and frankly rich in the mouth, this has terrific acidity supporting lush apple, peach and citrus flavors. The acidity lingers on the long, vivid finish which shows some lovely underlying mineral notes and wonderfully fresh stone fruit notes. This is big, fresh and juicy, it’s fruity without being a fruit bomb and shows enough detail and complexity to keep many palates interested, and then it explodes on the finish with remarkable intensity and zip. Great Pinot Gris. 93pts
Rather organic smelling on the nose with hints of old wood framing a core of spicy golden raspberry and something tropical and mango-like smeared over a sletty base note. Silken on entry, this show subtlety and a sophisticated textural polish that rounds off the edges without adding too much meat to cover the bones. Very much acid driven in the mouth, this is not really defined by a tartness though the bright flash of acidity is present on the palate and through the long, green apple and green apricot tinged finish. A very Burgundian P G if one might be allowed to say such a thing. 90pts
Rather fruity and deep on the nose with an underlay of earthy floral notes supporting crisp peach and pear fruits. In the mouth this is fairly nervous, moderately light in body and definitely more acid driven than one expects from Oregon. I love the dry snap of tension on the palate as the peach and pear fruit turns perfume and elegant in the mouth, gaining a bit of spice and the moderately long tart and mineral flecked finish. Very refreshing and invites you back for another sip. 90pts
Tight, focused and citrussy on the nose with fine aromas of white flowers, lime, lime leaf and talc. Almost a touch sweet on entry, this is clear, bright and focused in the mouth, very medium/light bodied with fine clarity on the palate delivering mineral based slightly creamy green apple and citrus based flavors. This is very easy to drink and endlessly refreshing with a long, bright, clear succulent finish. It;’s not the biggest or most complex Pinot out there but it is delicious. 88pts
A little funky on the nose with a nutty, earthy edge to the aromas of river stones, dried herb and dried apple cores. This is supple and a little creamy in the mouth but not too creamy to lose focus. It’s really got as wonderfully seductive texture and offers citrus and green apple flavors with hints of pineapple and passionfruit on the backend. The finish is really driven by the structure, all acid and minerality which will prove to be the divisive point to this wine but it is really wonderful fresh and bright on the palate. I could sip this or have it with with food. 88pts
Light and fresh on the nose with fresh wood base notes and gently sweet aromas of blackberry, huckleberry and candied wild cherry. With air, more perfumey oak emerges but it's still quite subtle. This enters the mouth with acidity to the fore that is decisive, bright and cutting, followed by a lovely and intense mouthful of dried herbs, orange rind, sour cherry and cranberry fruit. The tannins have a bit of a raw feel to them and need some food or a year or two in the cellar to help them resolve a bit, but this is so fresh and unfettered in the mouth that its already a pleasure to drink. The finish is dry, minerally and reminiscent of old wood spread with wild raspberry jam that pops on the finale. 93pts
Tight and mineral on the nose with an overlay of sweet, toasty oak and a base of red fruit framed with rose petals. This enters the mouth with terrific energy. The acidity really holds this up like a tent pole, allowing the transparent red fruit to cascade around the palate with nuanced notes of lightly nutty oak and a hint of caramel sweetness adding detail. The back end shows off more strawberry-toned fruit with the light earthy astringency of strawberry seeds and a hint of tar before the wine trails off on the clean, fresh finish. The tannins here are lovely, super fine grained and supportive, but you really don't even notice them. Suave stuff. 92pts
Herbal and medicinal on the nose with sweetly nuanced, tight wild berry fruits and hints of juniper and sage. Round and soft in the mouth, but not from a lack of acidity. This just has a languid if juicy style that allows the subtly complex notes of dried herbs, candied cherry fruit, earth, old wood and almost floral fennel spice to drift across the palate before they hit the backstop of that acidity. The finish is much more lively, offering fine cut and lovely little nubby, sweet tannins for some textural diversity. There's a touch of bitterness and a hint of red apple peel on the moderately long finish that add some lovely detail here. This has soul. 92pts
Mineral earth and a light underlayment of oak support a tart, cherry pie filling style of fruit with minty and blueberry top notes. This is pretty big in the mouth but remains fairly lightweight. I think the modestly high alcohol adds to the impression of richness here, but the intensity of the flavors are undeniable. While the nose shows quite subtle wood spice, it's more obvious in the mouth, coming together with gentle hints of herb, coffee and mineral to create real complexity. The dark berry fruits take on shadings of blueberries and watermelon. The finish shows more tension with fine-grained, dusty tannins and sapid acidity accenting a bit of espresso foam over astringent red fruits. This is intense and fairly elegant though for my palate, it shows a bit too much oak. 92pts
Tight on the nose with almond shell top notes and slow to emerge raspberry, sour cherry and cranberry fruit topped with hints of candied orange. Very elegant if a touch tight on entry, this quickly shows a bit of nutty oak along with a focused core of small, sour red fruits framed with dried spice notes. The wood tannins arrive on the mid-palate to tighten things up and accentuate a bit of wood spice that flows onto the finish, which is almost peppery and long with wild red berry fruits. The oak is a bit prominent here both texturally and in terms of flavor, but the underlying wine should emerge intact after a year or two in the cellar. 91pts
Sweet candied herbs, vanilla, bay leaf, chinato, wild cherry, sage and a little caramel all come together on this complex and pungent nose. That intensity carries over to the palate, which displays all sorts of bitter and ripe herb, accenting bright sour cherry and cranberry fruit. There's noticeable tannin here and vanilla with modest spice notes from the oak. The palate shows some nuances of funky, almost gamy dried herbs and some nuttiness which adds detail to the fairly tannic, long and tart fruit finish. Unusual yes, but attractive, super complex and very interesting. Will be divisive. 91pts
Very delicate on the nose with lacy aromas of spiced strawberry fruit, freshly turned earth and some used wood. Light and elegant in the mouth this enters with a hint of baby fat but quickly turns taut and transparent in the mouth. the flavors are subtle and recall the tart berry and used wood found on the nose. theres a fine base of ripe supple tannins adding support in the mouth here and they stick out just a touch on the moderately long and simple tart red berried finish but i find that attractive. This is very subtle but that is what many look for in Oregon Pinot. I find this very attractive but others might find it a bit too restrained. 87pts
Tight on the nose with lightly smoky oak notes over a base of stemmy, rose scented red berry, lingonberry fruit. Simple with immediate and attractive red cherry fruit, this gains some detail and nuance on the palate with lovely hints of dried herb stems and used wood. The texture here is also attractive and while this does thin out on the midpalate before fading on the finish the wine maintains its balance with acid and tannin fading out hand in hand. This has a simple flavor profile but has a very attractive texture. 86pts
Quite perfumed on the nose with hints of apples and flowers over a gently spicy, nutty base. This is bright and vibrant in the mouth, with assertive green pear and lime flavors and a terrific texture that shows a hint of roundness but relies on the acidity to remain succulent and nervous. There's a nice white floral note on the back end, along with dusty mineral notes and citrus pith flavors that extend over the long, energetic finish. This is great. 91 points
Sweet grilled nectarines greet the nose over a base of dusty flowers and dry earth. This shows a subtle yet distinct spiciness on the nose. Bright and medium- to light-bodied in the mouth, with fabulous acidity that supports zesty lemon and subtle apricot fruit. Very focused and precise on the palate, with late arriving suggestions of blueberry and wild cherries that linger on the long, clean and refreshing finish. 90 points
Fresh on the nose with aromas of pear, citrus and white floral highlights. This is classic Oregon Pinot Blanc in the mouth, focused and fresh with fine acids wrapped up in taut white fruits on the palate and gaining honeycomb and creamcicle nuance on the backend that helps drive the moderately long finish. Straddles the line between simply refreshing and a wine with weight and character. 89pts
Apple blossoms, pressed flowers and a touch of quince greet the nose. Bright yet well-rounded with polished edges in the mouth, this shows off the quince of the nose layered upon apple and vaguely herbal flavors on the palate. There's nice focus and a mineral snap to this on the back end, which leads to a juicy fig-tinged citrusy finish that ends with some pith and pebbles notes. This is pretty good stuff. 88 points