Thin-skinned, petulant Pinot Noir is difficult to ripen and demands a gentle hand in the winery. Worse still, too many of its simple expressions fail to deliver on the promise of a grape whose impact has been described as the iron fist in a velvet glove.
When grown in the right place, under the right circumstances, however, the variety really delivers on its reputation for elegance, complexity and subtlety. The best examples are aromatic with notes of roses, berries and cherries, and offer balanced flavors of fruit, earth, herb and barrel, with ample natural acidity.
Oregon’s Willamette Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) is widely acknowledged as the next best place after Burgundy, where Pinot has thrived for centuries, to explore its vast potential. First planted there by Eyrie Vineyards founder David Lett in the mid-1960s, the area is now the foundation for the state’s growing reputation.
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West Coast producers, from Willamette Valley in Oregon to Sonoma and Santa Barbara counties in California, are rethinking American Chardonnay.
They may not be traditionally known for the grape when compared to winemakers in Napa Valley, who defined the now stereotypical, buttery, oaky style for the white wine. But they are planting, producing, and experimenting with the wine—with a twist. They are skipping the big oak for a more restrained, Burgundian-inspired approach that values balance, freshness, and high acidity for a mineral-driven wine. They aren’t trying to make a white Burgundy, but they are applying that French philosophy to the vineyard, winery, and cellar. The results are lighter-bodied wine that features tasting notes most American wine drinkers wouldn’t associate with Chardonnay—oyster shell, Asian pear, green citrus, flint, mineral—and it’s drawing in consumers who claim to not drink the white wine.
Drouhin Oregon Roserock 2016 Pinot Noir (Eola-Amity Hills); $35, 92 points. A superb value, this is a dark, supple, even sensuous wine with deep fruit flavors of blueberry and cassis. Notes of dried Mediterranean herbs and a dark dive into baker’s chocolate contribute to a complex weave of flavors. There’s real polish and power here, though this is among the winery’s lowest priced Pinots. Editors’ Choice. —P.G.
The lightest and most ethereal of the noble red grapes, as well as one of the most fickle and demanding in the vineyard, Pinot Noir has always been a darling of the wine world. From its spiritual home in Burgundy, France, to the variety of New World wine regions that have eagerly adopted the grape with tremendous success, it has a global reputation for producing some of the world’s greatest wines.
But Pinot Noir has seen seriously impressive growth within the United States, both in acreage and adoration. With more than 65,000 acres grown across the country, it’s now the third most planted wine grape, behind Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, respectively.
At a presentation last month in New York City, two Willamette Valley, Oregon wine producers came to not only speak about the fifth annual Willamette: The Pinot Noir Auction taking place in Oregon on April 4th but to give a tasting that displayed the differences between the tough, rainy vintages compared to easier, sunny vintages.
One of the chairs for the auction this year was David Millman, managing director of Domaine Drouhin Oregon, who, interestingly enough, had a 20 year career in the music industry eventually starting his own firm representing major artists like Chicago as well as expanding into services for food and wine and had always been intrigued by older bottles of Bordeaux and Burgundy wine.
The name Drouhin has been among the most recognized in Burgundy for 140 years, since a young Joseph Drouhin founded his own wine company in the town of Beaune. Today, the company is still in family hands and is a successful producer of several dozen wines of this region, ranging from the humble Bourgogne Blanc and Rouge though Premier Cru and up to Grand Cru, such as Bonnes Mares and Corton.
In addition, the family is now producing lovely Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as well in Oregon, at their 225-acre estate in the Dundee Hills in the Willamette Valley production area. Established in 1987, the company currently produces four different examples of Pinot Noir, and two Chardonnays; the wines have received excellent critical praise.
Wine Business Monthly’s annual list of Hot Brands honors wineries, winemakers, growers and others within the industry who are making some kind of statement: experimenting with lesser-known varieties, utilizing creative winemaking techniques or voicing an unpopular opinion for the sake of moving the U.S. wine world forward.
Hot Brands is more than a “best of” list, it’s a chance to explore new regions, varieties and winemakers that we think embody some of the latest innovations in the ever-growing, and ever-changing, wine market.
Oregon is a wine territory where Pinot Noir dominates, both in plantings as well as state of mind. White wines of notable quality, such as Pinot Gris and Chardonnay are part of the state’s viticultural identity, and there are even a few reds such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that add to the portfolio. But it is Pinot Noir, representing 69% of plantings, that tells the story of the Oregon wine scene.
Drouhin Oregon “Roserock” 2015 (Eola-Amity Hills) – Young garnet; aromas of bing cherry, wild strawberry and thyme. Medium-full, this is ripe with very good varietal character, moderate tannins, subtle black spice and good acidity. Nicely balanced, drink over the next 3-5 years.
© Roserock Drouhin Oregon 2021
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