Alan Koller, Bauhaus's Wine Director, is exploring the famed New Word pinot noirs of Oregon in his latest blog post, leading up to Uwe's upcoming Wine Club Dinner on November 20th. Alan discusses the importance of terroir, age, and ultimately the mad-scientist of the wine world - the winemaker.
Well, here we are again, more wine talk! This is going to be a slightly different post, as I am focusing on pinot noir from Willamette Valley in Oregon – more specifically, a small part of it in the North West.
Why pinot? It is my favourite red grape, and there are several reasons why. I love how well pinot showcases the terroir it grows in. Riesling does a great job of that as well, but not like pinot. Pinot Noirs are a difficult grape, but the rewards for getting it right are worth it. As pinot ages, it evolves into flavours I respond to very well. Ultimately, pinot noir intrigues me when they are young. I don’t say that about Barolo, Brunello, Bordeaux or Aussie Shiraz, they all need time to evolve into something special, but pinot tells a story from the beginning.
Now, why Oregon? Because I love Oregon Pinot! I used to travel to Seattle to visit friends quite a bit, and my two duty free bottles were always Oregon Pinot. The other reason for “why Oregon” is because outside of Burgundy, there are only a few places that really produce top-quality pinot noir. I have discussed German pinot in an earlier blog post. Russian River pinots show very well, but I find the intensity of the fruit can overwhelm the terroir. Sonoma shows a little more restraint in its fruit and does have more varied sub-regions producing solid examples of pinot noir. California can struggle with overly rich soil, which causes the fruit to be very rich. However, pinot loves to struggle. But then there is Oregon: a cooler climate than Sonoma and the Russian River, and a similar soil composition to Burgundy, albeit a touch warmer. When you start dealing with wines from one of these four regions, you really start to find some very special wines. Dundee Hill, Eola Amity Hill, Chehalem Mountain, and Yamhill Carlton - each of these regions produce utterly stunning pinot noirs and each region’s wine show a slightly different character.
If you were to do a blind tasting of the pinots of these regions, apparently these are the differences between them. Dundee Hill has a high iron content in its soil, so acidity and minerality will be more present and the palate will show raspberry and black tea flavours. Now, when you move to Eola Amity Hill you get a much different story of plum, currant, and exotic spices. Yamhill Carlton is where the fruit stand up front and makes you take notice. Black cherry and vanilla tones seem to show up a great deal. Finally, there is Chehalem Mountain, and this is where some of the more intense bold style pinots are found, displaying rich cherry, black tea, and baking spice flavours.
Now, if I lined up 4 random wines from each region and tasted them blind, would I (or you) find that these previous descriptions apply? Maybe, or maybe we would struggle because there is another factor in the production of wine that can have a very large effect on how the wine taste: the winemaker.
The winemaker – the mad scientist/artist of the wine world. I remember a few years back when Wine Spectator did a study. They took 3 winemakers and challenged them to make three wines each. The key to the challenge was that Spectator bought the grapes. Where did the grapes come from? Three different vineyards. Each winemaker was given 1.5 tonne of grapes from each vineyard. The reason why they was to see whether terroir or the winemaker has the most influence on the finished product. The answer was the winemaker. The blind tasters did find some similarities between the wines, but they found that each wine uniquely different. So, the terroir will be present, but ultimately it is how the grapes were pressed, fermented and aged that will define the wine, UNLESS the goal of the winemaker is to showcase the terroir. Learning to make a wine so it showcases its terroir is the lesson new world pinot producers are undertaking.
It was not too long ago when North American pinots were over-extracted, had their alcohol levels too high, and were over-oaked. Those styles still exist, but thankfully many wineries started taking trips to Burgundy to discover what made French Burgundy so special. Some of it was winemaking technique, and another big part of it was getting Burgundy root stock. This is why we see “Clone such-and-such” listed as the type of pinot in most of the New World’s top producers of pinot. Simply put, Burgundy vines are better at showing the lands terroir. Oregon is certainly learning the ways of Burgundy. They recognized the soil similarities and they want to show off what Oregon has to offer in terroir. Apologies for the roundabout way of getting back to the terroir but if you have ever had the pleasure of my service, you would already know I do tend to wander. Perhaps it is part of my charm?
We have arrived at the point in my blog where we go from a fun little info session to the point of the story! Wouldn’t it be fun to try some Oregon pinots from top wineries, sourced from three of these regions just to see if they are different and if they do measure up to Burgundy? Well your opportunity is on November 20th! That is the date for Uwe’s next wine club dinner. How does the wine club work? It is a bit different than your usual wine dinner. Uwe has Chefs Tim and David create a special menu that will help showcase the wines of the evening. Uwe also brings in wines just for the event. The pricing is $130 before tax and gratuity for the chef’s menu and then the wines are sold by the glass. The best part is, the wine is not priced at the usual restaurant mark-up – Uwe does a minimal markup to make sure you get to try some of the best wines we can find without charging a fortune.
If you would like to join us for this unique glimpse into the world of Oregon Pinot, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at 604-974-1147. Dinner starts at 7pm.