April 2012

As Good as Burgundy

By: Anthony Dias Blue

I’ve been tasting Pinot Noir since I was 12, when my enophile father took me to visit some of the most revered caves in Burgundy. I tasted—tentatively—alongside gruff, no-nonsense vignerons wearing black berêts, stubs of Gauloises hanging from their lower lips. My father sipped Mercurey for breakfast, quaffed Nuits-Saint-Georges for lunch and savored majestic Cortons with dinner in Beaune. I was always allowed a neophyte’s share, and I’ve been a Burgundophile ever since.

When Pinot Noir arrived in Oregon, I watched with interest (and support) as this fledgling Pacific Northwest region began to experiment with what might be the world’s most difficult grape. In spite of some heartbreaking failures, there were surprising early successes; but I never imagined that the Willamette Valley would ever seriously rival the Côtes de Nuits in my still-burning Burgundian heart.
The Oregon wine industry—really a collection of small artisanal producers—has been around for 40 years now. The region’s system of appellations has been adjusted, with smaller AVAs being created to delineate and showcase unique, distinctive terroirs, just as in Burgundy. Vineyards have matured, growing techniques have been refined and Oregon winemakers, many of them trained academically, have gradually learned that a careful “hands-off” policy works best with Pinot, a grape that can’t be schooled.

I recently tasted around 50 releases from the 2009 vintage. Quite simply, I was transported. Suddenly, I was an adolescent connoisseur again, discovering as if for the first time what Pinot Noir is all about. These are spectacular wines, combining New World power and intensity with Burgundian style and finesse. What follows are my notes on the best of the crop.

Domaine Drouhin Oregon 2008 Pinot Noir, Laurene, Dundee Hills
($65) Lush nose of cherry and brown sugar; smooth, supple and juicy with long, elegant flavors and lovely structure; dense, complex and complete with excellent balance. 93

J. Christopher Wines 2009 Pinot Noir, Sandra Adele, Dundee Hill
s ($45) The lush, smoky cherry nose leads to a silky, elegant, generous wine with lovely ripe cherry, deep notes of spice, flesh and oak; masterful and long. 94

Domaine Serene 2008 Pinot Noir, Evenstad Reserve, Willamette Valley ($65)
Fresh cherry nose; racy, crisp and ripe with tangy acidity and lovely bright fruit. 91

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