2010 was a classic vintage in Oregon and Washington. As the wines from the vintage start to enter the market, wine lovers might feel like a kid in a candy store with all the choices of what to buy. Here's a few brands you may or may not have heard of, but are worth discovering.
"2010 was the best vintage I've ever seen at Leonetti." ~ Chris Figgins, Winemaker
Just in case you aren't able to get your mitts on 2010 wines, stay tuned because 2011 is right behind it and is shaping up to be similar in terms of vintage characteristics and quality. Back to back growing seasons with cooler temperature and extended days of ripening into October set the stage for ideal levels of sugar and acidity in the grapes at harvest.
Troon—Applegate Valley, Oregon
In recent years Southern Oregon has been enjoying a growth spurt as more wine lovers discover the grape varietals that benefit from warmer temperatures as well as micro climates in the Umpqua, Rogue, Illinois and Applegate Valleys near Roseburg. While the Willamette Valley terroir is well-suited to thin skin varietals like Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, Southern Oregon features 'signature grapes' Syrah, Zinfandel and Tempranillo. Other grapes being planted include Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Vermentino, Albariño and Viognier depending on elevation of the vineyards.
Mother nature created this little corner of the world situated between the Willamette Valley 5 hours drive to the north, and Napa/Sonoma 8 hours to the south. Marine climate and varying elevations offer a range of soil types from volcanic to sandy loam and hard clay.
Dick Troon realized the potential forty years ago (just a few years after David Lett planted the first vines at Eyrie) when he planted his Zinfandel vineyard.
- 2008 Troon Zinfandel Reserve - Applegate Valley Really a bit of surprise to see how good this wine was. The Troon Reserve Zin has the best of both worlds—spice laden ripe red fruits with moderate alcohol at about 14.1%. Who knew Zinfandel could grow well in Southern Oregon?
- 2008 Syrah Reserve - Applegate Valley If tasted blind, this might be mistaken for a Washington state Syrah. Opaque purple-black color with sweet ripe Oregon blackberry, plum and prune with medium French oak influence (thankfully). Drink now after decanting or wait 3-5 years.
- 2009 Old Vine Meritage - Applegate Valley Decent blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc from 35-year old vines. Wasn't blown away by it, structure was lacking acidity for me but a riper style with moderate oak influence will appeal to wine drinkers.
Seven of Hearts—Willamette Valley, Oregon
Oregon has plenty of good producers crafting great wines—do they need another? In this case, yes. A pleasant surprise in 2012 has been the discovery of this winery founded by ex-Silicon Valley resident Byron Dooley and his wife Dana. It's unfortunate their production is small because the wines are delicious and really well made.
The Dooley's left Silicon Valley after the 2000 bubble burst and made as stop in Napa where Byron earned a viticulture and winemaking degree from Napa college. In 2004 they moved north to the Willamette Valley where they established a 12-acre vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. Seven of Hearts was born in the interest of creating limited production wines that represent the place they're grown.
2010 Chatte D'Avignon Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre - Columbia Valley Wow. In a word, WOW. If tasted blind this wine might be mistaken for Saint-Joseph or Crozes Hermitage in northern Rhone. Although those are Syrah only wines, the distinct black pepper and smoked meat notes are similar. Very good wine for $25.
2010 Chateau Figareaux Cabernet Franc - Columbia Valley Sourced from grapes on the Oregon side of the Columbia Valley, this is part of the Bordeaux varietal program featuring wines that are precise, structured and impeccably balanced. I've often wondered about Cab Franc's potential in Columbia Valley. Like many of the wines from this producer, the Cab Franc is an ideal representation of the grape and the place it was grown. Distinct characteristics of black fruits, spice, more black fruits woven together with moderate French oak and structured acidity.
2009 Pinot Noir - Willamette Valley At $20 a bottle this is a steal. It's not very often you can find a wine with complexity, balance and finish at this price point. I had to do a double take at the price. My guess was $35 a bottle. Like the Luminous Hills Pinot Noir, it's a "hippy" style that's lighter in color and style.
2010 Luminous Hills Pinot Noir - Yamhill-Carlton Out of a field of stellar 2010 Pinot Noir's from the Willamette Valley comes an instant classic. More of a hippy style Pinot with light feminine characteristics from the light brick red color to the floral aromas coming out of the glass. If you were teaching a class about what a text book Pinot Noir might look like, you'd use this wine. Precise, balanced, low alcohol with firm acidity and moderate oak all play supporting roles for the lead character, which is beautiful red fruits that deliver a 5-star performance.
Gramercy Cellars—Walla Walla, Washington
Master Sommelier, Greg Harrington has been responsible for some of the most prestigious wine lists in the U.S. (and he was the youngest person to pass the Master Sommelier exam at age 26). So in the spring of 2004 at a backyard picnic in Brooklyn, Greg and his wife, Pam tasted wines from Washington state that displayed something special. The Harrington's went to Walla Walla where they went on a marathon tasting trip that convinced Greg this was the place he could realize his dream to make wine. Gramercy Cellars was born.
You'd expect someone with a trained palate to craft great balanced food-friendly wines with limited oak influence in a way that represents the grape and the place the grape is grown. In its short history, Gramercy Cellars has partnered with some of the best vineyards and accomplished just that.
2010 Gramercy Cellars Walla Walla Valley Syrah - Walla Walla This was my birthday wine this year. Actually, that should read, "wines". Multiple bottles were ordered and they all went bye-bye during a party with fellow wine professionals. A wine like this one are a strong argument for Syrah being Washington's best grape. Although it's opaque in color, minimal winemaking, restrained extraction and moderate oak offer an impeccably balanced wine weighing in a 13.9% alcohol.
2010 Gramercy Cellars The Third Man GSM - Columbia Valley The website description says it best: "The wine is fresh, red berry dominant with smoke and mineral. We managed to capture the liquor-esque fruit that grace the best Southern Rhone wines, without having the wine turn out over extracted or heavy. Think the greatest Luden's red cherry cough drop you have ever had. And its herbal as Grenache should be."
2009 Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon - Walla Walla Limited production 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from two estate vineyards. I had a chance to taste this wine at TEXSOM along with all the Gramercy wines. In a blind tasting this wine will have enough personality or terroir to stand out. As I was thinking about how to describe the wine to you, again Master Harrington does it better on the site: "The 2009 is massive with red and black fruits, herbs and earth. This is definitely not the first wine to open in the box. Give it some time or at least throw it in a decanter overnight. Patience is definitely rewarded."