Thursday, September 03, 2009

In his Wednesday New York Times wine column, Eric Asimov and his tasting panel rolled through 20 Oregon pinots, finding them “all over the spectrum” – not surprising considering they were from 2006 and 2007, two quite different vintages. Asimov went on to note that it was “one of our more difficult tastings; while we liked many of the wines, very few grabbed and held our attention.”


I have done my share and more of tasting Oregon wines over the past 25 years, and I do agree they can be difficult. There is wide variation in terroir, in vineyard age, in clonal selections, and of course in winemaking, even when considering only the pinot noirs from the Willamette Valley. Though running out and buying whatever 20 bottles you can find in the neighborhood is one way of approaching the subject, I think that tasting a few hundred wines is going to give you more of a handle on regional diversity and overall quality.

The Times panel couldn’t find any Eyrie, didn’t like the ’06 Drouhin or the ’06 Brick House Les Dijonnaise. They ranked a 2006 Sineann Schindler Vineyard at the bottom of their top 10, misspelling the name of the winery and failing to note that Peter Rosback has already moved up two vintages on his pinots, which really should be tasted when fresh, or given proper aging.

As I make my way through dozens of 2006 and 2007 Oregon pinots this week and next, I am finding that a lot of winemakers did a fine job in a difficult year. In general, 2006 has the juice and the power, 2007 the elegance and finesse. Prices are coming down, and for the first time in memory, very good Oregon pinot under $20 – even under $15 – can be found. Even so, you mostly get what you pay for.

The top wine I tasted yesterday was the William Hatcher 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($48). Hatcher spent many years as the managing director of DDO before launching his own highly successful A to Z wine company, which has now acquired Rex Hill, and expanded to make Francis Tannahill wines and a single wine under the William Hatcher label.

Hatcher is well known for being opinionated and wryly humorous, as this quote from his self-penned bio attests:

“Not having paid attention on Career Day, my occupational choices upon leaving my 14 years as Managing Director of Domaine Drouhin were winemaker and accordion repairman. Doing a bit of market research, I found that Oregon was already saturated with accordion repairman (2), but there weren't nearly enough winemakers (250). Thus, William Hatcher Pinot Noir came to fruition in a manner of speaking. To ginger the challenge, my wife Deb and I decided that we should test the design limits of a 30-year marriage in becoming business partners. Thus, William Hatcher Wines was conceived to create further amusement for their friends, penal labor for their children and, oh yes, the A to Z and William Hatcher labels. With every bottle you purchase, one dollar will go toward the Hatcher's marriage counseling fund.”

Humor aside, Hatcher is serious about his wine, as the back label pithily declares that “I make one wine. Six vineyards, 28 barrels. 15 composed the ideal cuvée. This is that cuvée. 360 cases.” So, severe selection, and a single-minded focus. What a concept! In a state where most pinot producers make six or eight or more single vineyard wines, it’s refreshing to find someone who wants to make just one, and make it the best it can possibly be. This is a graceful, balanced, lovely wine, with sweet cherry/berry fruit matched to spice, light toast, light chocolate, malted milk, and vanilla custard streaks. It sounds oakier than it tastes; but the fruit is the star here. I’ll bet if it ever found its way into the hands of the NY Times tasting panel, they might even give it that third star.



Anonymous said...


Thanksfor throwing in the line that the wines should be evaluated fresh or with proper aging. I always wonder if Oregon PN is given the same consideration as Burgundy, where many wines are made to be enjoyed in the 10+ year timeframe. We have barely begun drinking the 2005 PN's. 2007 and 2006 are years away....Does this account for the bigger ones being unfocussed?


PaulG said...

As we have discussed, and you know so well, pinot noir jumps thru more hoops than any six other grapes, especially in the early going. Releasing pinots very early seems to give tasters a real chance at enjoying the freshness that winemakers taste, shortly before they go into whatever sulk that particular vintage chooses. As for aging, I think it would be very helpful for general appreciation/knowledge if there were opportunities to revisit old vintages from multiple wineries. Good fodder for blogs, columns, etc.

Tiny said...


Thad W. said...

Paul, you offer a fair assessment of the differences between the 2006 and 2007 vintages. Having tried over 60 of the '07s to date, I have become a huge fan of this vintage, as these clearly express the "elegance and finesse" I prefer in pinot noir.

Vintage preferences aside, it is an unfortunate circumstance that Asimov and his tasting panel were unable to experience a broader consideration set of Oregon pinot noirs. I think this speaks to one of the biggest challenges Oregon wine faces today: distribution.

Hopefully, with 2007 offering lower prices and higher quantities of good tasting Oregon pinot noir, more folks will have access to these wines outside of the Pacific Northwest region. It's high time Oregon got its due - if not 2007, then the even stronger 2008 vintage may be the catalyst.

I look forward to reading your coverage of Oregon pinot noir in the weeks ahead.

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