is 10 the magic number for aging oregon pinot?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Greatness in wine is measured in many ways, but it has long been an unspoken rule that the greatest wines are those that can evolve – and improve – in the cellar. It is one of the great pleasures at this stage of my wine writing career, that the best wines of the Pacific Northwest are now proving themselves as (or more) ageworthy than their California peers.

Over the years I’ve amassed a reasonably substantial wine cellar, especially strong in Oregon and Washington wines. For the past year, since moving them from storage in Seattle to a new, permanent home here in Waitsburg, I’ve eyeballed a solid wall of Oregon Pinots and waited for the opportunity to pop more than one or two at a time.

The chance came along following a casual conversation with a local winemaker who expressed an interest in tasting a variety of Willamette Valley Pinots. I volunteered to pull some bottles from the cellar and host the tasting.

The winemaker, his assistant winemaker, and their vineyard manager came up one sunny afternoon a week or so ago, and we all sat down to a blind tasting of 10 wines. Not all were old, to be sure, but there were a few older bottles scattered among the 2009s and 2010s, and just for fun, I stuck in a pair of ringers. One was a Joseph Drouhin 2005 Gevrey Chambertin, and the other a 2009 Quails Gate Pinot from British Columbia.

We spent some happy hours swoozling and swizzling, slurping and spitting, chatting and ultimately voting our favorites. I did my best to disguise all the wines, even from myself, so that I couldn’t pick out the ringers unfairly. At the end of the tasting, we each voted our top three wines, and I scored them accordingly.

Here is how they finished, along with my tasting notes.

The group’s first place wine (also mine), with 9 points overall, was also the oldest wine, a 2002 Rex Hill Reserve. (I couldn't find a photo of the 2002, but that was the winning wine). I had guessed it for the Burgundy. Lightly tawny, aromatic and clean, it showed great precision and length, with surpassing elegance. If I had any doubts as to where it was from, they came from a hint of brown sugar in the very back of the finish. I should have noted that sooner!

A close second for both the group and myself, with 7 points overall, was the 2010 Carabella Inchinnan from the Chehalem Mountains AVA. I had recently reviewed this wine for Wine Enthusiast, and I loved it then and loved it again. A gorgeous nose with citrus, orange peel, spice, cedar and cola. “Whew!” I wrote. “A lot is going on here, all harmonious, with subtle power and excellent length.”

In third place, with 3 points was the Drouhin. Only one taster had voted it in his top three, but he’d awarded it first place. I found it full, fruity, slightly chalky, with peppery/herbal notes.

The Trisaetum 2010 Ribbon Ridge Estate was right behind, with 2 points. A “showy” wine, as one taster put it, it was universally well-liked but not quite in the top three.

Three wines tied with a point each – a Ponzi 2005 Reserve, a Lachini 2008 Cuvée Giselle, and a Roco 2009 Willamette Valley. Informally, I scored all three quite well. In fact, out of the 10 wines tasted, only two failed to top 90 points in my informal (not for publication) notes.

No one guessed the Drouhin to be one of the ringers; but three of us picked out the Quails Gate as non-Oregon. Interestingly, one person said New Zealand, another California.

What I gained most from the exercise was a sense of the overall quality in a variety of vintages, and the sense that, if the Rex Hill can serve as a guide, Oregon Pinot at 10 years of age can be exceptional.


Bob Neel said...


The setup to this post prompts a question I've been afraid to ask. You routinely get two bottles of every naturally-corked wine that's submitted. If the first one opened is OK, that leaves a surplus. Given the familiarity you MUST have with your UPS & FedEx drivers, I've always assumed you have an airport hanger's-worth of cellar!! :-) How big is it? Inquiring minds want to know...

PaulG said...

Bob, afraid to ask why? I have always felt that the second bottle, if a young wine seems to have the promise of being ageworthy, should be well-cellared and re-tasted at an opportune time. This both contributes to my ongoing education, and provides the opportunity to write about wines more than once, as wells as to place them in a context with other wines of comparable character. However, it's a small percentage that make that cut. Most wines, I think we can all agree, especially the inexpensive supermarket brands that make up a large percentage of what I receive, are not going to improve. I have kept my cellar capacity at right around 1500 bottles for years.

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