Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Load of Oregon Oregon!

That's right amigos, I just had the distinct pleasure of spending a couple of days in Portland, Oregon. It was a business trip, but I was able to cram in a good bit of wine tasting.

There are so many good things to say about Portland - a lovely downtown area, completely manageable in size. My pal NorthCarolinaGuy and and I were able to get our bearings easily and wander around most of the downtown area. Clean streets. There just isn't a lot of trash littered about, noticeably less than in NYC. Hip and interesting art galleries every couple of blocks. International food - in less than 48 hours, only in the downtown area, I saw Persian, Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, Indian, Italian, French, Chinese, Lebanese, Greek, Japanese, and other restaurants.

And the people (I hate saying "the people," makes 'em sound like I visited them in the zoo) are really nice - really. They aren't putting it on, it seems, they are just patient and pleasant people, eager to help you figure out their town without getting in your face.

And wine bars, great wine bars! This is Portland, after all, 45 minutes away from the first wineries in the Willamette Valley. People in the area are proud of the local wine, and there are plenty of places to taste. I was blown away by Oregon Wines on Broadway, off SW Washington, on Broadway. Nice atmosphere, not trying to be the ultimate romantic wine bar. No, this place looks like it was a pharmacy or a soda fountain about 3 hours ago. This place is about the wine. The tables are comfortable, sure, and there is plenty of local wine to look at on the shelves. There are 30 (!) Oregon Pinots on tap at any given moment, and you can buy them by the glass or in tasting sized pours.

We wandered into Vinopolis, an incredible wine store that without a doubt rivals my favorite places in NYC. The selection of Oregon wines was jaw dropping. I felt overwhelmed to see so many wines that I love or that I would love to taste, but cannot find in NYC, all just sitting there on the shelves, so reasonably priced and calm looking. No one was making a fuss, no "Oh my god, Shea Estate '05, just sitting here!" or other such exclamations. I guess they're used to it out there, the easy access to amazing and rare Oregon wine. There was a great Loire white selection too, and plenty of interesting looking 2005 Burgundy, including the tempting 2005 Confuron-Contiedot Bourgogne. And there were half bottles of Mas Blanc Banyuls Rimage la Coume. Had I a duffel bag with me in that place, fughedabadit.

And while I'm plugging Portland amenities, we loved our hotel, the Hotel Deluxe Portland. Big rooms, really good service, a great hotel bar and a pretty darn good restaurant. Comfy beds and linens too, they pay attention to what's important over there, and without crushing your bank account.

Okay, so the wines. Very impressive as a whole, particularly those from the 2004 vintage. I know that I expressed a lot of doubt about the 04 wines back in October, and I am ready to say that I was simply wrong. I found the wines to be fresh tasting, vibrant with acidity and fruit, and expressive of their Oregon locale - chock full of that blue fruit pine and earth sensation that permeates the wines of the Dundee Hills and the Willamette Valley. Here are NorthCarolinaGuy's and my notes (prices are by the bottle at the Oregon Wine Bar on Broadway, unless otherwise indicated):

2004 Sineann Pinot Noir Wyeast Vineyard ($40).
Dark plum color, pretty blue fruit and earth on the nose. Sweet sappy fruit on the palate, bursting with juicy acidity, a joyous wine. Dark fruits and earth coming through and a long and bitter finish. Very little tannic feel to the wine. We agreed that this didn't seem to warrant any cellaring - kind of blunt wine without a lot of acidity, but offering lots pleasure right now. Drink up and enjoy!

2005 Evesham Wood Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills ($20).
Reserved nose of pine and earth, a little green. Sour cherries on the palate, some bitter pine flavors too. Good acidity, very pleasant, and a great under $25 Pinot. Biodynamically produced.

2004 Belle Pente Pinot Noir Murto Vineyard
, ($35).
My first taste of Belle Pente wine in a couple of years, and what a wine it was, my favorite of the trip. Dark purple with a wonderful floral nose, faint smokiness too. Velvet texture, deep red and black fruit on the palate, great balance and acidity. Forest and dried leaf flavors underneath the sweet fruit. More Burgundian in style, I felt. This was the bottle I wrapped in a pair of sweatpants and checked in my luggage. I have to check out Belle Pente's other wines. I know that my pal Adam recently discovered these wines too, so maybe a joint venture...

2005 Soter Pinot Noir North Valley
, ($30).
My first ever taste of a Soter wine, great reputation. I was not impressed. Kind of murky in the glass, with an odd nose of candied orange peel, and garbage. Much better palate though, candied raspberries, good acidity. Such an off-putting nose, though...not for me.

2005 Shea Pinot Noir Estate, ($40).
Darkest wine, deep purple color. Reserved and unyielding nose, with lots of swirling, some soil, a little plum. Sappy syrupy black cherry, some pine. Simple wine, nothing elegant or delicate here. This to me does not come close to the Shea wines from the 2004 vintage, but that's probably true about 2005 in general. Fine, but not so impressive, and certainly not worth fighting for, as many will do after the high scores for the 04 wine.

2004 Cristom Pinot Noir Eileen Vineyard, ($51).
Intense dark purple, dried fruit and soil on the nose. Round tannins, good texture, black cherries, chocolate, damp cement and a bitter finish. This wine was almost too much, it really needed food. Nice, but not my favorite style of Pinot.

2004 Cristom Pinot Noir Sommers Vineyard, ($6 tasting pour, Southpark Wine Bar).
Blackberry and plum on the nose, some flowers too. Sweet black fruit palate with pine and earth, and good acidity. We preferred this wine over the first Cristom.

2004 Cameron Pinot Noir Gehrts Vineyard, ($6 tasting pour, Southpark Wine Bar).
Dark sweet fruit smells, some pine, some wet animal fur underneath. Black fruit on the palate, good acidity, but there was aspartame on the finish. Kind of a simple wine, I was not overly impressed.

2004 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir Dundee Hills, ($12 glass at Portland City Grill).
Light cherry red in the glass,sort of alarming, almost candy colored. Light waxy, perfumey raspberry smells, not enough acidity to balance the wine. Shoe polish in the mid palate. Not recommended.

2004 Brick House Pinot Noir Cuvee du Tonnelier, $42 (tasted at home the night before the trip - one must prepare one's self, no?). Still very young, as evidenced by the over two hours it took in the decanter to show itself. Creamy nose, some pine and dried leaves, dark fruits and cherry cola on the nose. Smooth texture. Medium body, palate of underbrush and pine, some dark fruit character. Very well delineated flavors, purity. This wine rewards patience, and will only improve with cellaring. This is a biodynamic wine, as I learned from Jack's list at Fork and Bottle, and I'm not the least bit surprised - such pure and well defined flavors, so much healthy earth aroma and flavor.


Anonymous said...

We did the Oregon Wine Country Tour about 6 years ago. I think I did a flight at Oregon Wines on Broadway, too. The wines for that trip were so disappointing! Both of us prefer Burgs and RRV pinots over Oregon pinots. We haven't given up, but don't seek them out now, either. Perhaps if they cost around $30 rather than $40-$65.

Brooklynguy said...

Hey Jack,
5,6,7 years ago you might not have tasted great wines for a couple of reasons: 96,97,98 were not good years for Oregon Pinot. If you were there when the 99s were out, those were great, but would have been young back then. Also, I think that Oregon wine making has improved tremendously since then. Case in point, the very difficult 04 vintage, in which many highly skilled producers were able to make great wine. And by the way, St Innocent, Belle Pente, and others cost in the $30 range. I would put up a $34 St Innocent bottle against any domestic Pinot. And against many young Burgs too. I hope you will try some Oregon Pinot again sometime, hopefully the 04 vintage that is still available.