A couple weeks back I was fortunate enough to be invited to an Oregon Wine dinner in New York City by Snooth as part of a sponsored media trip in connection with their First Annual People's Voice Awards. It was an incredible weekend of seminars and tastings covering the globe, but one of the very first events focused on Oregon.
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.
Abacela's dream has been to produce world-class wine from Spanish and Portuguese grape varieties in Southern Oregon. Keeping in line with this this, we sampled their excellent Albarino at the dinner. The next night at the People's Voice Awards tasting Earl also poured their Reserve Tempranillo (which was absolutely sublime), the 2005 Paramour Tempranillo blend (basically an Oregon Gran Reserva), as well as a Port (Port from Oregon!) that was delicous.
Abacela has accomplished all this through a combination of science and experimentation. Earl and his son Greg, who is an extremely accomplished climatologist, studied areas all over the West Coast to find the perfect spot to grow Tempranillo. After settling on the Umpqua Valley in Southern Oregon, they began a phase of experimentation with all kinds of varieties, locations within the vineyard, etc. to get just the right combinations. Judging by the wines we tasted, they definitely succeeded.
Of course, you can't have an Oregon wine dinner without also drinking some darn good Pinot Noir, and we were lucky enough to have two Willamette (which by the way is pronounced Will-AM-it, not Will-a-met!) Valley wine producers with us -- Jim Bernau of Willamette Valley Vineyards and Brian O'Donnell of Belle Pente. Aside from their excellent wine, Jim and Brian (and Earl as well) are three of just about the nicest people you'll ever meet. The stories they told that evening about being pioneers in Oregon winemaking were a highlight of the entire trip! I wholeheartedly encourage you to stop by their wineries if you find yourself in Oregon.
And while all of the Pinot Noir we sampled at this tasting was over $20, you really don't have to spend that much to get delicious and authentic Pinot Noir from Oregon. A perfect example is another wine from Willamette Valley Vineyards that we didn't sample that night, the just released2012 Willamette Valley Vineyard Whole Cluster Pinot Noir (pictured at the top of the post), which in and of itself is quite a unique wine.
For this wine the whole Pinot Noir clusters are fermented intact, which essentially means the initial fermentation happens inside each grape. The goal is "to capture pure, fresh-picked Pinot Noir flavors". Mission accomplished? Let's find out.
100% Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon with an SRP of $22 and available for as low as $17. Sample submitted for review.
From the bottle:
"This whole cluster Pinot Noir was fermented from uncrushed Pinot Noir grape clusters. This technique retains the fresh fruit quality of the varietal and creates a wine which is delicious and accessible upon its release. This wine is an excellent companion with barbecued meats and vegetables, grilled fish, pizza, sushi and spicy Asian Cuisine.
These vines were tended by hand and cluster-thinned to increase flavor and intensity. All of our vineyards are certified sustainable - LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) and Salmon Safe.
Pinot Noir, a think-skinned winegrape, develops a natural defense against botrytis (mold) in our moist, cool climate - the antioxidant resveratrol.
The 2012 Willamette Valley Vineyard Whole Cluster Pinot Noir begins with delightful aromas of wild strawberries and raspberries, spice, earth and a few white pepper and floral notes. This light to medium-bodied wine tastes delicious with very light tannins and good acidity. The flavors are similar to the nose, but nice and juicy in the mouth and there is a bit of added cola as well. A smooth and super easy to drink wine that has a lot of character -- this isn't a wine you casually sip and then forget about, the memory of it sticks with you! The whole thing might even be a little bit better day 2. I've seen this wine compared in style to Beaujolais, but personally I'd take this over Beaujolais any day.
Also keep your eye out for the Smoooooooth Willamette Valley Vineyard Barrel Select Pinot Noir at Costco, which generally retails for just under $20. This is a special wine only sold at Costco, and as one of the first wines I reviewed on this site it had a hand in convincing me that there truly was plenty of delicious wine (and even Pinot Noir) under $20!
See a listing of local retailers selling this wine here.
Overall Rating: 7.8
Also check out my other articles to date in the Snooth PVA Wine Writers Seminars series: