The Willamette Valley might have its finest vintage in modern times with the 2010 Oregon Pinot Noir vintage. 1993 was awesome and helped put Oregon on the map with consumers. And from 1998 until 2002 Oregon Pinot Noir enjoyed a number of "good" vintages with approchable delicious pinot noirs that were both affordable, yet drinkable. Mother Nature seemed to smile on an otherwise difficult growing region during those years, but she saved her best for the vintage that's about to hit the market.
Recently, 2008 was hailed as one of Oregon's best vintages by wine critics and the media, however, wine professionals and sommeliers licked their chops at the 2007's which were mostly written off by said critics. Now 2007's are starting to open up and show wine lovers how dynamic and burgundian Oregon Pinots can be. They were muted at first, but now the rewards of patience are paying off as they unfold into layers of complex expression of the Pinot Noir grape.
Enter 2010 stage right. Consumers might not seeing it coming because the 2009 vintage is more of a vintage consumers and wine critics tend to fawn over with forward fruity wines that are drinkable now. I like drinking Pinots from vintages like 2009 because they deliver immediate gratification while we wait for the gems in the cellar.
At the TEXSOM conference today, Master Sommeliers Nate Ready and Fred Dame showed us a preview of what to expect from 2010 in Oregon in an afternoon tasting session.
Fred Dame, MS starts off by telling us, "If you spit these wines we'll have you shot."
2009 was hot and a bit of a challenge. Warm weather dried out soils, but late season rains came in a threw a monkey wrench into the harvest adding water to the grapes right before harvest. You got alcohol but little concentration and uneven structure (read: lower acid). A hot vintage is often a challenge for winemakers because all the grapes come into the winery at the same time and can already be fermenting before they hit the press. We'll enjoy them as fruit-foward jammier red wines.
2010 is one of the (if not THE) coldest vintage in 50 years. Truly a Burgundy lovers dream delivering impressive concentration tenured with strong acidity. The result are perhaps the most ideally structured wines from the Willamette Valley that will give some of Burgundy's finest wines a run for their money but at a fraction of the price. While cooler temperatures gave the wines acidity, the longer growing season well into October got sugar levels to where they needed to be right before harvest (and rain).
For this session wines were described as 'cowboy' or 'hippie'. Cowboy wines are bigger pinots expressing darker fruits made by maverick winemakers who are masters of their art. Hippie wines are the softer, more feminine style with lighter colors in the glass. Both are good. Both are delicious. And both styles are welcome to the cellar any time.
2010 Eyrie Pinot Noir (hippie wine) - Soft, elegant, plush and light color. It all started in Oregon with Eyrie, and it ends with Eyrie. Willimette Valley pioneer, David Lett planted the first vines in the Willamette Vally in 1966 and now his son, Jason Lett respects the past but represents the future of Eyrie. Is this Eyrie's finest wine ever? Doesn't cost much to find out at $35 a bottle. I vote YES.
2010 Bergström "Bergström Vineyard" Pinot Noir (cowboy wine) - Winemaker, Josh Bergström is meticulous in the vineyard. They say he puts every leaf in the vineyard exactly where he wants it. Josh is a younger winemaker who's not afraid to get the most extraction out of the grapes, yet somehow manages to keep the alcohol level down. Power and finesse all in one glass.
2010 Antica Terra "Botanica" Pinot Noir (cowboy wine) - Master Dame called this a "fastball down the center of the plate". Rich, textural and extraction but with acid. Red raspberry, black cherry made buy a true winemaker. I don't want to tell you exactly how good this wine is because there's not much available. Instead, I'll just say beg or steal to get your mitts on some.
2010 Bethel Heights "Southeast Block" Pinot Noir (hippie wine) quintessential Eola Hills rich with consistent farming. More tannin structure, but a pure expression of shallow volcanic soils. This is one for the cellar. Critics might hammer it, but this will be a beauty.
2010 Soter Mineral Springs Pinot Noir (cowboy wine) - "Tony Soter knows how to deliver a wine people want to drink." Fans of Soter might remember Beacon Hill Pinot Noir, which Soter sold and replaced with Mineral Springs Ranch. The switch gives Soter an extra 2 hours of sunlight a day. Incredible structure and precise balance between sugar and acid. Lovers of Burgundy will adore this wine while waiting for their Trousseau to age in the cellar.
2010 Brickhouse "Cuvée de Tonneliere" Pinot Noir (hippie wine) - Pretty and feminine. In the glass you can see through the wine as if it was 35% opaque with ruby red colors. Biodynamic farming "look under crazy"..
2010 Penner Ash "Dussin Vineyard" Pinot Noir (cowboy wine) - Texture. Lynn is a true winemaker who gets "texture". This vineyard is next to Shea. Dark garnet. Shows the hand of the winemaker. Seamless, structured, voluptuous ready.
2010 Brooks "Rastaban" Pinot Noir (hippie wine) - Northeastern part of Eola Hills. Deeper volcanic soils. Ease into the palate. Passionate family winery started by Jimmy Brooks. Seriously good Pinot Noir Jimmy would be proud of. Between Brickhouse and Bethel Heights on the palate.
The "hippie" wines will be legendary with age. The "cowboy" wines can age too, but they're the kind of wines you want to drink now while your Burgundies are nestled away in the cellar waiting for their day.
Oregon still manages to give us exquisite Pinot Noirs at very reasonable prices. This vintage will reward with some time in the cellar.