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Oregon Blockbuster to Beauty Movement

Watershed, a Portland-based brand communication specialist, recently sent me a case of wine to sample. Labeled the “Best Case Scenario,” First Edition, Winter ’12/’13, the twelve wines are said to be part of an evolving style of Oregon Pinot Noir termed “From Blockbuster to Beauty.”

The idea is that there are many Oregon Pinot Noir wines in production “that are elegant, bright, energetic, balanced, pretty, and under 14% alcohol.” This is a push-back to the popularity in recent years of opulent, blockbuster wines that have garnered big scores, collected wine competition medals, and caught the public’s palate. For many wineries, their alternative style of Pinot Noir offers nuance, expression of site, and food-friendliness without sacrificing intensity of flavor needs to find a voice in the marketplace. Sound familiar? Read the first article in this issue on a California organization, In Pursuit of Balance, which is tooting the same horn.

This case of wine reviewed here was meant to illustrate this movement, a renaissance of sorts, in which hopefully an alternative style of elegant and nuanced, bright and juicy Pinot Noir will gain recognition and desirability in the marketplace. I say a renaissance of sorts, only because there are some producers in Oregon such as The Eyrie Vineyards that have been producing this style of Pinot Noir for many years so the style is not new. It is the attempt to publicize and promote it on a large scale that is new.

The Oregon wines in this case are not going to please the palate of those reared on California Pinot Noir of the Kosta Browne, Belle Glos, Williams Selyem, and Sea Smoke genre. Those producers will never go out of favor because they offer a captivating style of Pinot Noir that garners deserved attention. I say buy a few of these Oregon wines reviewed here or similar ones in style, and contrast them with some of the more powerfully fruity style of Pinot Noir wines, and decide what pleases you the most. You won’t find any of these Oregon wines reviewed here receiving high scores from the wine press, so let your own palate decide.

Unfortunately, this movement has been launched to coincide with the release of the 2010 and 2011 vintage wines, two of the most challenging in Oregon’s recent modern wine history. I am all for elegance and restraint in Pinot Noir, but a number of the wines reviewed here are just too austere for my liking. The 2012 vintage should provide a much better platform for this movement’s voice.

2008 Amalie Robert Estate Estate Selection Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.8% alc. ph 3.66, 311 cases,$50. This blend is made by co-founder and coowner Ernie Pink. Aged in 46% new or second fill French oak barrels. · Moderately light reddish-purple hue in the glass. Aromas of cherry, spice and sandalwood. Discreetly concentrated core of black cherry fruit with accents of tobacco-laced oak. Silky in the mouth with substantial smooth tannin and bright acidity. Picks up interest and depth of flavor over time in the glass. Not as big as many Pinot Noir wines from Oregon’s 2008 harvest, but its show of elegance and vibrancy gives the wine high marks. Very good.

2010 Amity Vineyards Estate Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

12.8% alc., pH 3.58, TA 0.56, 145 cases, $40. Aged in 33% new French oak barrels. · Very light garnet color in the glass. Shy aromas of red fruits, spice and sandalwood. Light weight cherry and cranberry flavors that are slightly green (under ripe) with an underpinning of tarry oak. Gossamer tannins add silkiness and bright acidity brings vim to the wine. No change with extended time in the glass. Decent.

2010 Atticus Wine Yamhill-Carlton District Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.6% alc., pH 3.55, TA 0.67, 230 cases, $24. 80% Atticus Vineyard Pommard and 20% Dijon 777. Raised in 20% new French oak barrels for 9 months and after racking and blending, spent an additional 2 months in the same barrels. A majority of the vessels were oak puncheons. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose offers reserved aromas of dark berries including strawberries with a hint of stem. Mid weight oak-kissed black cherry core with a hint of mushroom and edible flower. Balanced tannins with a gentle creaminess to the mouth feel. An elegant, feminine offering that has appeal. Good.

2009 Brandborg Vineyard & Winery Bench Lands Umpqua Valley Pinot Noir

13.3% alc., pH 3.59, TA 0.58, 4,004 cases, $22. A blend from several vineyards and clones. Aged in 25% new French oak barrels. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Lovely perfume of cherries, BBQ grill, and leather glove. Middleweight flavors of fresh cherries with a dusting of oak. Gossamer tannins, bright acidity, and admirable aromatic persistence on the finish. Will make any meal better. Very good.

2010 Brooks Janus Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

12.2% alc., $35. · Light reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose offers shy aromas of dark red cherries, and oak-driven espresso. Elegant, relatively light and feminine, but offering a pleasing assortment of red and black berry fruits with a savory soul, wrapped in gentle tannins. Plenty of vim and vigor due to bright acidity which makes for refreshing drinking. A perfect food wine. Very good (+).

2010 Carabella Estate Chehalem Mountains Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 550 cases, $37. 6 blocks including Pommard, Wädenswil, and Dijon clones. Each block fermented separately. · Moderately light reddish-purple hue in the glass. The nose wows you with bright, perfectly ripe cherries and dark berries. Very polished and elegant in style, with delicious cherry and strawberry flavors accented with complimentary spice, cola and oak. A high class offering with beautiful balance that reeks of pinotosity. Still great the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.

2011 Cooper Mountain Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

12.95% alc., pH 3.49, TA 0.61, 3,200 cases, $25. 100% estate fruit from biodynamic grapes. Aged in 15% new French oak barrels. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose is medicinal and grassy with faint red fruit aromas evident. On the palate the red fruit is austere and herbal, and is somewhat out-muscled by tannin and acidity. A very delicate, noticeable nervy wine that finishes with abundant citrus peel presence. Needs more time in bottle. Decent.

2010 Firesteed Oregon Pinot Noir

12.0% alc., pH 3.54, TA 0.58, 40,000 cases, $17. Declassified juice from top end Willamette Valley and Citation cuvées. 15% of blend aged 10 months in 20% new French oak barrels. · Very light garnet color in the glass. Aromas of cherry, spice, cigar box and rose petals. Mid weight flavors of red cherries and strawberries with a hint of savory herbs, finishing with a confected cherry tone. Slightly tart and somewhat flat. Decent.

2009 Johan Vineyards Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

12.5% alc., pH 3.86, TA 0.55, 1,083 cases, $28. Native yeast fermentations, 42% whole cluster. Aged 11 months in 32% new French oak barrels. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of wild berries, bramble, lilac with a subtle green (stem) and medicinal note. Earthy dark red cherries and blueberries are featured in a middleweight style with a green, vegetal underpinning. Whole cluster just didn’t work in this savory wine. Decent.

2010 Montinore Estate Reserve Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.3% alc., pH 3.70, TA 0.63, 1,900 cases, $28. Aged in 33% new French oak barrels. A barrel selection primarily of single-vineyard blocks. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose features red fruits with a leafy, dried herb accent. Very light and delicate cherry flavor with a minty, pungent note. The fruit seems under ripe and is currently buried in tannins. Should revisit this wine in another year as cool vintage wines often pick up a little heft over time in bottle. Decent.

2010 Patton Valley Vineyard Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.2% alc., pH 3.68, 2,329 cases, $38. Aged 10 months in 32% new oak. · Light reddish color in the glass. Strong aroma of oak-derived mocha java and espresso on the nose obscuring any fruit notes. Coffee-laced oak and cherry flavors with balanced tannins and a short finish. Pleasant, but too much oak singing bass in this wine. Decent.

2011 Union Wine Company King’s Ridge Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., pH 3.67, TA 0.51, 11,500 cases, $18. Aged in about 20% new oak. · Light garnet color in the glass. Delicate but pleasing scent of red cherries, dried herbs and grassy oak. Very light and demure, with dilute red cherry flavor and a subtle herbal underpinning. Soft in the mouth with supple tannins. Decent.

An Oregon wine I received recently for review that really fits the “Beauty Movement.”

2010 Denison Cellars Kiff Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton District Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., pH 3.62, TA 0.52, 125 cases, $38, screwcap. 667, 777 and Pommard clones. Aged 12 months in 335 new French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered. Winemaker Tim Wilson. Vineyard farmed by Joel Kiff. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose displays an appealing marriage of black cherries and oak. Fresh, bright and flavorful, featuring black raspberry and black cherry fruit with a slight touch of peppery spice. Moderately rich with balanced, soft, dry tannins, and some length on the generous finish. This wine also has some textural interest and is beautifully crafted. Very good.

One more noteworthy Oregon wine.

2010 iOTA Pelos Sandberg Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

12.9% alc., 402cases, $38. Pommard, Wädenswil, and Dijon 667, 777 from six estate vineyard blocks. Aged 10 months in 47% new French oak barrels and an additional year of bottle aging before release. Unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Intense black cherry, plum and spice aromas with a hint of toasty, cedary oak. Discreetly concentrated flavors of smoky black cherry and dark raspberry fruit robed in balanced, dry tannins, finishing with an infusion of black raspberry jam on toast. There is a little more oak talking at present than I prefer, but this should integrate further with another year in bottle. Good.

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