Monday, September 14, 2009

Sineann’s gifted winemaker is Peter Rosback, whom I know as a friend as well as a winemaker. Does that influence my critical evaluation of his wines? That’s a question that could apply to any number of winemakers who live and work in the Northwest, for I have never believed that I had to erect some sort of iron curtain between me and them. I have on occasion been rather strongly critical of wines made by friends, and I do not give them any extra consideration that I don’t extend to every winery, whether I know the owners or not. The simple fact is that, for me, the great value of all the hard work that goes into wine reviewing is not limited to the opportunities to taste a lot of wines. The industry attracts unusually creative, multi-talented, extremely hard-working individuals, from all walks of life. I want to know them as people, not just as purveyors of products.

I noticed the quality of Sineann long before I met Rosback – in fact long before he ever sent me a wine for review. I initiated the contact, as I have with many others, because his wines spoke to me as a consumer, and I wanted to know more. I have tracked Sineann wines for over a decade now, and though Rosback has at times pushed his wines past my personal preferences as far as alcohol levels are concerned, I have always appreciated the artistry, the passion, and the commitment to vineyard exploration that they infallibly express.

Sineann’s annual late summer release of the previous vintage’s single vineyard pinot noirs is, as far as I am aware, the first out of the gate in Oregon. I asked Rosback if this was an advantage in terms of flavor. Pinot noir jumps through a lot of hoops when very young, and I have often been told by somewhat dismayed winemakers that “it really was tasting very good when I bottled it...” then the voice trails off. Rosback agreed that right after bottling his pinots, like many others, can go silent for a few weeks, but he does not believe, as I had suggested, that his program of early release gets them out into the market before they really dumb up.

In any event, they are always the first out, and yet they taste like complete, finished, ready-to-drink wines, not like barrel samples. By that I mean they are rounded off, well-integrated, with primary fruit to be sure, but with all the other components – acids, tannins, vineyard-specific layers of earth or leaf or rock – also in place. Many young, just-released wines may have the right components, but they are not yet smoothed into a seamless whole. There are jagged edges. Not true with Sineann. Even the non-pinots seem polished and complete upon release.

In 2007 and now again in 2008, the alcohol levels of the single vineyard pinots have come down to where many are below 14 percent. Rosback is not saying exactly how this was achieved, but I applaud it wholeheartedly. He is focusing more and more on vineyards in the Columbia Gorge, and I don’t know of any other winemaker with as many single vineyard pinots from that emerging region. Sineann’s lineup in 2008 showcases many strengths, but all the Columbia Gorge wines have ripe fruit that is pretty rather than jammy. Some have a leafy, herbal component, but none show the funky veggies that can impact less-than-stellar Willamette valley pinots, especially in cool vintages.

Among a lineup of nine pinots, including Sineann’s Oregon blend – very good, as usual – there are three from the Columbia Gorge AVA. Sineann’s 2008 Pheasant Valley Vineyard Pinot Noir has bright acidity, polished tannins, light herbaceousness, and round, forward, sweet cherry/berry fruit. A notch or two up is Sineann’s 2008 Able Vineyard pinot noir, a very pretty wine, medium-light in color and mouthfeel, with hints of rose petals and smooth, plummy fruit flavors. The middle rolls into a finish with cooked cherries, a dusting of cinnamon, and light, polished tannins.

My favorite of the group – indeed of the whole tasting, which also included excellent regular and reserve offerings from Schindler and Resonance – is Sineann’s 2008 Wyeast Vineyard Pinot Noir. It’s a south-facing, high elevation (1600 feet) vineyard, and the altitude sharpens the acids and gives the fruit a tighter focus than its Columbia Gorge neighbors. The core of earthy, herbal red fruit is crisply defined, and it builds power as it expands into a protracted finish, layering in cinnamon, toast, and chocolate, without losing any of its tart fruit; then gently fades into a finish of wild raspberries and shaved dark chocolate.

Sineann’s website is being updated, I am told, but these about-to-be-released 2008 wines are not yet listed. I suggest you contact the winery directly for purchase and pricing information.

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