Friday, March 16, 2007

Remembering a Trip to Oregon with a 2003 Pinot

In early January of 2005 BrooklynLady and I visited the Willamette Valley in Oregon. We spent a few days visiting wineries and tasting rooms, trying various restaurants, driving around, generally enjoying ourselves in the Pacific Northwest. We stayed at this bed and breakfast outside of McMinnville called Youngberg Hill Vineyards and Inn. You have to drive a few miles off the main road to get to the inn and the scenery on the hilltop is gorgeous.

Youngberg estate vineyards surround the inn on all sides, and there is a small barn with a few horses. A wrap-around porch allows you to sit and look down through the valley, really a stunning view. Convenient to everywhere in the valley and not more than 90 minutes from Portland, the inn was very comfortable and cozy. Breakfast was kind of fussy and not so great, but the fireplace in the common room and the bevy of Oregon wine literature, the soft rugs and couches made this place a great winter wine getaway.

Because it is on a small road in the hills, you really feel like you're off in the woods. One day, for example, after lots of tasting at several wineries and then a late lunch at the Dundee Bistro (a great lunch spot frequented by many local wine makers), we were driving back to the inn for a little siesta. We crested a small rise on the dirt and gravel road leading to the inn and suddenly there was a herd of about 30 elk! They grazed on the side of the road, their nostrils steaming in the January air. Ours was the only car around, and we stopped to admire them. A large male was on look-out duty, and he stood perfectly still, erect and tense, looking back at us. BrooklynLady opened the door of our rental car to get a better look and in that instant they moved into the hills, not running, gliding almost, but they were gone very quickly. A magical experience.

One morning, still in bed, I was reading a feature about Daedalus Cellars in an Oregon wine newsletter and I looked out the window and watched a coyote ambling through the vineyards, not 50 feet from the inn. Seemed like a good omen, right? The newsletter had good things to say, so when I put together a case of wine to bring home from that trip, one of the bottles was a 2001 Daedalus Cellars Pinot Noir Labyrinth.

Daedalus Cellars is named after the mythological Greek inventor and architect, designer of the labyrinth that King Minos of Crete requested in order to trap the Minotaur birthed through a union of his own wife and a bull. The connection between Daedalus the myth and this wine...who knows?

Wine maker Aron Hess puts out several wines each year from sourced grapes. He and his wife purchased 17 acres that will soon produce grapes for a Daedalus Estate wine, but until then we have Daedalus Seven Springs Vineyard, a famous Willamette vineyard, also the hallmark of Mark Vlossak at St Innocent. There is also an "entry level" wine, called Willamette Valley, a Syrah (that I have never tasted), and Labyrinth, a blend of fruit from Seven Springs and three other vineyards, Maresh, Momtazi, and Hawks View. Hess is something of a young star in the Willamette Valley, known as a highly skilled wine maker. There are less than 1,000 cases produced of Daedalus wine each year, but you can try it quite easily by ordering from Willamette Valley online stores. I have seen the wines at Burgundy Wine Company in Manhattan too, if you live in my area.

I recently visited Portland again, and I've been thinking about how great it would be to go back to the Willamette Valley. I would be so much more directed in my visits and tastings this time. Tonight, an icy and stormy night, I wanted to open something to remind us of that trip a few years ago. The 2001 Labyrinth is long gone, though. So we went with the 2003 instead, which is interesting because it was such a tough year. Overheated, high alcohol and low acid wines were common. We've been drinking mostly 2004 Oregon wines lately. How would this wine show?

2003 Daedalus Cellars Pinot Noir Labyrinth, $36.
Lovely clear violet color. Incredibly floral nose, lots of freshly turned soil smells too. Considering the 14.1% alcohol level, I sense no heat on the nose whatsoever - impressive. The palate is sweet blue fruit, unmistakably Oregon Pinot, and elegant. Smooth mouthfeel, perfumey in the mouth, the sweet sappiness gives way to intense foral and mineral (iron) flavors. This is delicious and complex wine, a great achievement in a tough year. Makes me wish I had ordered a few of the 2004's - imagine what this wine could be in a good vintage! The estate fruit should be ready soon, too, and that should really be interesting - Daedalus wine from Daedalus fruit. I'm looking forward to it.


Anonymous said...

I am sure these Oregon pinots are delicious. But $36 dollars for new world Pinot, I dont get it.
If I am paying near 40 bucks for a bottle, I want history and terroir.
$40 bargain Cote du Nuit -- yes, but not Williamette Valley -- no rich for my blood.

Brooklynguy said...

I hear ya, 10 buck, I hear ya. But you know, I think that Oregon offers some great value in the $30-$40 range compared to Burgundy. Bourgogne wines are better for the $20-$25 than Oregon wines at that same price, but I think Oregon does quite well a step up. And some Oregon vineyards have a 30 year history, vines that are the same age as the village Burgundy vines, in many cases.
thanks for stopping by.