Oregon


… and I offer, as usual, a variety of Champagnes and sparkling wines to suit, I hope, every taste and pocketbook and every occasion, whether you’re entertaining the entire cast of Survivor: Dude, Is Mars Even Inhabitable? to the most private, secret rendezvous a deux. And be careful tonight and in the wee hours. I don’t want to lose any of My Readers to the vagaries of drunkenness, whether in themselves or others. Happy New Year!
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Yes, the Kenwood Yulupa Cuvée Brut, California, is manufactured in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, and for the price, it’s completely appropriate for large crowds. It’s a racy blend of chenin blanc, French colombard, chardonnay and pinot noir that’s fresh, effervescent, clean, crisp and very dry; packed with limestone-like minerality verging on the saline quality of oyster shells, it offers hints of roasted lemons and pears and a touch of spice. According to Kenwood’s website, the Yulupa Cuvée Brut is available only in December. Very Good. About $12, but discounted as low as $9 throughout the country.
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The story of Gloria Ferrer’s sparkling wines in Sonoma County makes a chronicle of constant improvement and success. In fact, one of the products I reviewed in my first wine column, published in July, 1984, in The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis, was a very early rendition of the Gloria Ferrer Brut, and I didn’t think much of it. I’m happy to say that’s not the case all these years later. The Gloria Ferrer Brut, Sonoma County, is a blend of 91.2 percent pinot noir and 8.8 percent chardonnay, and I sort of dote on that accuracy of detail. The color is medium gold with a pale copper flush, energized by a streaming froth of tiny golden bubbles. Notes of dried strawberries and raspberries reveal hints of roasted lemons and lime peel over a layer of limestone and flint; lip-smacking acidity keeps this sparking wine crisp and lively, while its lovely, dense texture, given a dose of elegance by scintillating minerality, lends personality and appeal. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $22.
A sample for review.
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The Argyle Brut 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon, a blend of 63 percent pinot noir and 37 percent chardonnay, presents an exuberant welter of fresh biscuits and steel, cinnamon bread and limestone, quince and crystallized ginger. The color is pale gold; tiny winking bubbles spiral ever upward. I cannot overemphasize the terrifically irresistible nature of this sparkling wine, its elegance and elevating nature, its blitheness rooted in the stones and bones of crisp, nervy acidity and the essential, lacy element of limestone-like minerality. In the background are hints of lemons, baked apple and toasted hazelnuts, these elements subsumed into a finish that delivers a final fillip of flint and caramelized grapefruit. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $27.
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All right, so you want real Champagne for New Year’s Eve, like from France, the Champagne region, but you don’t want to hijack your credit card or fall into 2013 already entailed by debt. (Haha, good luck with that!) Choose, then, the Champagne Philippe Fontaine Brut Tradition, a 70/30 pinot noir/pinot meunier blend that will satisfy your festive taste-buds and spirit as well as your wallet. The color is shimmering pale gold, and tiny bubbles indeed shimmer up through the glass. This is an very attractive, clean yet savory and nicely faceted Champagne that features a modulated toasty character, vibrant blade-like acidity, heaps of limestone and flint elements for minerality and a texture engagingly balanced between fleetness and moderate density. What’s not to like? 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. Prices vary widely, but the national average is about $28.

Imported by Bourgeois Family Selections, Asheville, N.C.
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David Léclapart cultivates three hectares — about 7.7 acres — of mainly chardonnay vines in the Premier Cru village of Trépail. I have unfortunately never possessed a whole bottle of any of Léclapart’s four cuvees — L’Amateur, L’Artiste, L’Alchimiste, L’Apôtre — having tasted them on three occasions in New York at trade events, but those encounters made me wish devoutly for more intimate and prolonged contact. The estate has been operated since 1998 on biodynamic principles, certified by EcoCert and Demeter; the wines are made sans dosage, that is, without sugar for the second fermentation, so they are bone-dry, sometimes achingly so. And yet they are, at least to my palate, eminently appealing, though equally demanding, even rigorous. Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut (sometimes called the estate’s “entry-level” wine) is a 100 percent chardonnay Champagne that was fermented in stainless steel. Notes of limestone, flint and steel practically explode from the glass; paradoxically, while it takes elegance to the farthest extreme in the realms of chilliest allure, L’Amateur reveals a savory, earthy background, as well as an unexpected wisp of camellia and fresh apples and pears. Acidity, it’s almost needless to mention, is of the most resonance and chiseled quality, while the limestone element feels deeply and irrevocably etched. If I were summoned to my fate tomorrow morning on the dueling ground, I would sip a glass of this Champagne before turning to face my foe. 12.5 percent alcohol. Exceptional. Again, price range across the map, but the national average appears to be about $83.

Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York.
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No snark today; it’s my birthday! So what I offer are eight wines that we have enjoyed at home recently, mainly with lunches or dinners or standing in the kitchen preparing meals, with no — all right, very few — quibbles. It’s an eclectic group: white, rosé and red; still and sparkling, originating in Germany, Hungary, France, Oregon, Sonoma County and Napa Valley. Prices range from $11 to $45; ratings go from Very Good+ to Exceptional. No technical notes and details; just heart-felt reviews designed to spark your interest and whet your palate. These were all samples for review.
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Count Karolyi Grüner Veltliner 2011, Tolna, Hungary. 12% alc. 100% grüner veltliner grapes. Very pale straw-gold color; bone-dry, spare, lean, subtly infused with green apple, lime peel and a tang of spiced pear and grapefruit; powerful strain of oyster-shell-like/limestone minerality, but winsome and attractive. 523 cases imported. Very Good+. About $11, a Raving, Cosmic Bargain.
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River Road Nouveau Rosé of Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. The first California wine from 2012 that I’ve tasted. Lovely pale watermelon color; pure strawberries and watermelon in the nose; soft, supple, almost shamelessly appealing; hints of dried cranberries and mulberries, pert, tart, laced with limestone; touch of orange rind and plum skin; slightly sweet on the intake, but the finish is dry. 240 cases. Absolute delight. Very Good+. About $15.
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Gustave Lorentz Crémant d’Alsace Rosé (nv), Alsace. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. Radiant medium salmon-copper color; a constant upward swirl of tiny bubbles, glinting silver in the dusky pink; striking aromas of macerated strawberries and raspberries with touches of cloves, orange zest and lime peel; very dry, very crisp, heaps of limestone and shale; yet creamy, supple, lots of body and heft, almost chewy; a long spice and mineral-laden finish. Production was 2,500 cases. Delectable and more. Very Good+. About $25.
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Domaine Chandon Reserve Brut (nv), 82% Sonoma County, 18% Napa County. 12.5% alc. Composition is 80% pinot noir, 20% chardonnay. Medium straw-gold color with a touch of bronze; a surging whirlwind of tiny bubbles; very biscuity, roasted hazelnuts, spiced pears; lightly buttered cinnamon toast; ginger and quince and a hint of baked apple; heaps of limestone-and-flint minerality, very steely, quite elegant yet with robust underpinnings; long spicy, toast-and-limestone packed finish. Very classy. 2,046 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Cornerstone Chardonnay 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 100% chardonnay grapes. Pale straw color; pungent with pineapple and grapefruit aromas tinged with honeysuckle, lemon zest, cloves, damp limestone and a touch of mango; lots of presence, lots of personality; lively, crisp, refreshing; dense, talc-like texture, almost chewy yet taut, chiming with acidity and a vibrant limestone-and-flint minerality. Quite stylish and attractive. 166 cases produced. Now through 2014 t0 ’16. Excellent. About $35.
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Villa Huesgen Enkircher Steffensberg Riesling Kabinett 2011, Mosel, Germany. 10% alc. 100% riesling grapes. Pale straw-gold color; delicate, lithe and lacy, crisp as an apple fresh from the cellar and slightly bitter and bracing as apple skin; whiff of some dewy white flower like camellia, traces of smoke and ripe lychee, peach skin and apricot; smells like summer, what can I say? so lively that it’s almost pétillant, burgeoning quality of limestone and shale, hints of roasted lemons and pears, but all subsumed to a sense of elegance and refinement married to the power of fluent acidity and scintillating minerality. Production was 2,000 cases. Just great. Now to 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $40.
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Signorello Seta Proprietary White Wine 2011, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. 62% semillon grapes, 38% sauvignon blanc. Takes risks with oak but pulls off the feat. Light straw-gold color; spicy figs and pears, dried thyme and tarragon, greengage plums, roasted lemons, guava and ginger: yeah, quite a bouquet, in which you also sense, as ink seeps into the graven lines of the etcher’s plate, the soft permeating burr of oak and woody spices, as well in the body of the wine; yet boy what presence and tone, clarity and confidence; a few minutes bring in notes of white peach and gooseberry, something wild and sunny and definitive; crisp acidity, a modicum of stony minerality. 177 cases. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $42.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. A brilliant pinot noir; you want to hand yourself over to it. Dark ruby color with a slightly lighter violet-magenta rim; deliriously spicy and floral; black cherries, red currants and mulberries, just a hint in the background of something a little earthy and funky, very Burgundian in that aspect; super satiny texture but with a slightly roughed or sanded (as if were) surface — there’s a touch of resistance; a substantial pinot noir that fills the mouth, dense and intense; gains power as the moments pass; there’s an autumnal element: burning leaves, slightly dried moss, briers but overall gorgeous fruit. 200 cases. Among the best pinot noirs I tasted (or drank) in 2012. Now through 2016 to ’18. Exceptional. About $45.
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Napa Valley’s Cornerstone Cellars has come a long way since 1991 when two doctors from Memphis bought some surplus Howell Mountain cabernet sauvignon grapes from Randy Dunn and started their own label. Great reviews poured in for Cornerstone’s cabernets, and continue to do so, issued under Napa Valley and Howell Mountain designations. The producer has a second label, Stepping Stone, while a recent addition to the roster is an even less expensive line, the punningly labeled Rocks. Cornerstone has expanded in several directions under the leadership of managing partner Craig Camp, and one of the directions is a collaboration with Oregon star-winemaker Tony Rynders (10 years at Domaine Serene, consultant to a flock of small producers) to produce Willamette Valley pinot noirs for the Cornerstone and Stepping Stone labels; there’s also a Willamette chardonnay for Cornerstone that I’ll report on in a subsequent post.

I tasted these wines at Wine Bloggers’ Conference 2012 in August and in October as samples for review.
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The Stepping Stone Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon, aged 13 months in French oak barrels, 35 percent new. If you don’t mind a moment of geekiness, I’ll list the regional sources of the grapes, to give My Readers an idea of how the wine was assembled to represent the Willamette Valley as a sort of ideal; 45 percent of the grapes derived from the Yamhill-Carlton appellation, 33 percent from Eola-Amity Hills, 15 percent from Chehalem Mountain, 5 percent from McMinnville and 1 percent each from Ribbon Ridge and Dundee Hills. What are the implications? Most of these sub-appellations of Willamette Valley consist of vineyards that range in elevation from 200 feet (this is above the valley frost-line) to 1,000 feet. Differences in soil and weather patterns are fairly subtle but very real and are largely influenced by the presence of the Coastal Range to the west and the Van Duzer Corridor that allows moderating breezes from the Pacific through to a couple of these small areas in the afternoon. Chehalem Mountains offers the greatest variation in temperature; Yamhill-Carlton tends to be the most moderate in temperature and the driest. These regions provide a thoughtful winemaker with a finely nuanced palette of characteristics to work with, using percentages of grapes from each to create a picture of a valley-encompassing pinot noir.

The color of Stepping Stone Pinot Noir 2010 is bright ruby with a magenta tinge; this is pure, bright and fresh, mounting an appealing bouquet of smoky and spicy black cherries and plums woven with rhubarb and pomegranate and that typical Willamette Valley element of briers and brambles over a base of clean earthy loam. The earthiness, the touch of loam and moss, remain consistent in the mouth, contributing a foundation for ripe and juicy black fruit flavors supported by slightly barky tannins and vibrant acidity; the finish takes on some of the austerity of those tannins and a hint of woody spice, but the wine is eminently attractive and drinkable. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 137 cases. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $30.
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The first time I tried the Cornerstone Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley, my first note was “beautiful”; the second time, my first note was “lovely.” Need I continue? Well, yes, of course. The oak regimen was 15 months in French barrels, 62 percent new; the appellation blend was 68 percent Yamhill-Carlton with diminishing percentages of — in this order — Chehalem Mountains, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge and Dundee Hills. The color is a ravishing medium ruby with a violet rim; aromas of black and red cherries and currants are highlighted by touches of cola and cloves, rhubarb and cranberry and, after a few moments in the glass, tar, black tea, loam and bittersweet chocolate. It’s difficult to tear yourself away from such a panoply of sensations, but you won’t be unhappy to do so when you feel the wine’s smooth, supple and satiny texture, the way it adds spiced plums and mulberries to the mix, and how the bright acidity and slightly knotty tannins open to a fairly deep earthy-graphite quality. You feel a subtle crescendo of tannins and oak through the finish, but the wine is essentially balanced and integrated and complete. 13.5 percent alcohol. 498 cases. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $50.

Label image, cropped and resized, from hogsheadwine.wordpress.com.
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A friend who works for a local wholesale house called me and said, “Listen, somebody sent us some wines to try, and we just can’t work with them because the production is so small. I’ll bring ‘em to you and you can do with ‘em what you will. If you can use them on the blog, that’s fine.” So, my friend brought the wines by the house, and they turned out to be two vintages — the only two vintages so far — of pinot noir from Labor Wines in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. I saw instantly what he meant by the small production; Labor Wines made 280 cases of the inaugural Pinot Noir 2009 and 336 cases of the rendition for 2010. Not a lot of juice to go around, and not exactly tons of information about the small winery out there, either, not even on its website. What I can tell you is that Labor Wines is a collaboration between entrepreneur Richard Oppenheimer and Corey T. Nyman, of the well-known Nyman Group restaurant consultants, managers and headhunters for the restaurant and hospitality industries. In addition to this pair of sequential pinot noirs, Labor Wines made a Pinot Blanc 2011. The wines can be found in some stores and restaurants in Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, New York, Oregon and Texas.

I’ll tell you right now that if your standard for fine pinot noir is something extracted and opulent, fruity, super-ripe and forward, then the Labor Wines pinot aren’t for you. If, on the other hand, you believe that the ideal pinot noir should be lithe and spare, that the acidity should cut a bright swath on the palate and that it is altogether a congeries of infinite delicacy, nuance and understatement, well, these are definitely Worth a Search.

Addendum for local readers: These wine ARE available in Memphis.
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The Labor Wines Pinot Noir 2009, Willamette Valley, drew grapes primarily from the Yamhill-Carlton District with the addition of grapes from the Chehalem Mountains appellation. The wine aged in French oak, a combination of new and second-year barrels, but neither the percentage nor the length of time is specified, and about the latter issue I would say not too damned much time, because the oak influence here is subliminal. The color is medium ruby-cerise; aromas of red cherries and red currants are melded with hints of cloves and sassafras, dried currants, mulberries and a touch of smoke; a few minutes in the glass bring in a note of dried cranberry and (very slightly) pomegranate. In the mouth, the wine is a finely shaped amalgam of lightly sanded woody spices, dusty graphite, elusive tannins and clean, vibrant acidity, all working in concord with delicately spiced and macerated black and red fruit flavors. The finish is well-knit, sinewy, spicy. 14.4 percent alcohol. 280 cases, Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $28.
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The differences between the Labor Wines Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley, and its predecessor from 2009, are subtle, indeed, but certainly present. The color is a similar red ruby-cerise but with a shading of magenta at the rim. In the nose, we perceive the same fresh, spare red cherry and currant scents but with more bottom in the form of new leather, briers and brambles and a wild touch of rhubarb. The ’10 is a bit spicier than the ’09, but it maintains, at all costs, a spirit of spareness and elegance that makes it easy to drink for its winsome fruity qualities yet demanding for its dry, rigorous character. The wine aged eight months in French oak, with only 15 percent of the barrels being new, so, again, the presence of oak is felt in the wine’s subtly shaped architecture, its framing and foundation, just as the dry, slightly powdery tannins feel organic and essential without being emphatic. There’s a touch more minerality here, too, in the form of cool flint and graphite, while the finish feels faceted, spicy, a little earthy in the way of dried moss and underbrush. 12.5 percent alcohol. 336 cases. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $28.
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One of the interesting aspects of Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine region is that few vineyards are planted on the valley floor, because the soil is too good, too rich, dense with the nutrients of ancient floods and river deposits. The vineyards tend to be planted on the hillsides, above 200 feet, where the soil composition is more spare and more demanding and requires the vines to work for their nourishment. This phenomenon is true of Burgundy, for example, where the best vineyards, the Premier and Grand Crus, are planted in the mid-range of the southeast facing slopes; lower and higher are the vineyards that produce the more generic “village” wines. Of course Willamette and Burgundy also share a red grape, the noble pinot noir. Anyway, several of the Willamette’s sub-appellations include the designations “hills” in their titles, such as Dundee Hills and Eola-Amity Hills, and it’s from Dundee that today’s Wine of the Week originates.

The Sokol-Blosser Pinot Noir 2009, Dundee Hills, Oregon, is an organically-produced wine that contains 87 percent estate grapes. The winery was founded by Oregon pioneers Bill Blosser and Susan Sokol Blosser in 1971, when grapes were quite new to Willamette Valley; they were preceded by Dick Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards in 1965 and Dick Erath in 1967. Sokol Blosser in now run by siblings Alison and Alex Sokol Blosser; winemaker since 1998 has been Russ Rosner. The Sokol-Blosser Pinot Noir 2009 aged in French oak for 16 months in 44 percent new barrels. The color is a lovely ruby-mulberry hue, with a rim just tinged with violet. The whole package displays exquisite poise and balance, though as is typical with Dundee pinot noirs the wine emphasizes a distinct earthy, loamy character that begins with briers and brambles and ends with deeper inflections of graphite and truffles. Red and black cherries and plums with a slight tang of red currants and cranberries are woven with notes of cola and cloves and a smoky back-note. Tannins are grainy and modulated but with enough bark and bite to let you know they’re right there at the threshold. The texture is smooth, dense and satiny. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $38.

A sample for review.

The Yamhill-Carlton District was granted status as an American Viticultural Area in 2004, though its history as a grape-growing and winemaking region goes back to 1974, when the pioneering Pat and Joe Campbell founded Elk Cove Vineyards. The area, in the northern stretch of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, is now home to 34 wineries and some 60 vineyards that cultivate about 1200 acres of vines. Set into a rough horseshoe-shaped amphitheater of ragged hills (and centered around the two hamlets of its name), Yamhill-Carlton, the yelow area on the accompanying map, features ancient marine sedimentary soils that are among the oldest in Willamette Valley and that drain quickly, a necessary aspect for successful grape-growing. The rules of the AVA stipulate that vineyards must be planted between 200 and 1000 feet above sea level.

One of the youngest of the wineries in Yamhill-Carlton is Lenné Estate, started in 2000 by Steve and Karen Lutz, who found an old pasture that year, near the town of Yamhill, and decided, because of its exposure, soil and drainage, that it would be perfect for growing pinot noir vines. The soil is called peavine, described in official surveys as “poor, shallow and gravelly,” meaning that vines have to sing for their suppers if they’re going to find the proper nutrients deep in the bedrock. All the wines produced at Lenné derive from this 20.9-acre vineyard.

Bloggers and other wine industry people attending the Wine Bloggers Conference this week in Portland should know that Steve Lutz will be pouring the three wines that I review here at the opening reception Thursday night. These were samples for review. Map from winesofwoi.com.
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Lenné Estate Karen’s Pommard Pinot Noir 2010, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley. The wine, a selection of the best barrels from the vineyard’s Pommard blocks, is named after Steve Lutz’s wife. The color is an enchanting limpid, almost transparent medium ruby; aromas of smoky black and red cherries with touches of plum and mulberry are bolstered by notes of clean earth and loam and just a hint of graphite and bittersweet chocolate. The wine aged 11 months in French oak, 66 percent new barrels. The emphasis now lies with the stones and bones of structure in the realms of vibrant acidity, supple oak, moderately dense tannins and a pretty profound granitic-loamy mineral quality, but fear not, because the wine still feels succulent and satiny, spicy and paradoxically ethereal. The finish is dry, a little mossy and brambly, a touch austere. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 125 cases. Best from 2013 or ’14 through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2009, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley. The wine aged 11 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. The hue is medium ruby with a shading of scarlet fading into garnet. Seductive and exotic aromas of sandalwood and cloves, violets and rose petals and potpourri are woven with roasted plums and a hint of fruitcake. A product of an unseasonably hot year, this 2009 is intense and concentrated, deeply flavored with a combination of spiced and macerated cherries and plums with dried cherries and cranberries; there are distinct backnotes of the Willamette Valley’s characteristic loamy influence, as well as a bit of spice cake and mocha. The whole package is beautifully balanced and integrated, though the wine is fairly dense and chewy, and the finish flushes out dry and a little austere. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 450 cases. Best from 2013 through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $45.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2008, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley. Again 11 months in French oak, only 30 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby with a slight garnet-mulberry hue at the rim. The nose is clean and fresh, engaging and appealing, yet with a serious iodine and iron edge highlighted by earthy briery and brambly elements; curiously, you feel the wood a bit more in this wine than in its cousins from 2009 and ’10, yet give it a few minutes in the glass, and it conjures notes of cloves and sassafras, rose petals and violets, spiced and macerated red and black cherries and plums, characteristics that segue smoothly onto the palate. The texture is platonically satiny and sensuous, but the wine is no kissy-face crowd-pleaser; rather, it drapes that texture around a structure deeply infused by essential acidity and the loamy, gravel-like minerality that ties all these wines to each other and to their birthplace. I wanted to weep because I didn’t have a roasted Cornish hen with which to drink this pinot noir. 14 percent alcohol. 491 cases. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $55.
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Dedicated to one grape, Archery Summit, in the Dundee Hills of Oregon’s Willamette Valley region, has amassed an enviable reputation for pinot noir wines of impressive substance, tone and purity, at the same time as they seem to reflect the character of their single vineyards while projecting a somewhat heightened sense of stylish individuality. The winery was founded in 1993 by Gary Andrus and partners of Pine Ridge Winery in Napa Valley. The winery building, with its aging caves underneath, was finished in 1995. Winemaker is Anna Matzinger. Archery Summit pinots are built to impress, with prices to match, yet they tend to offer a wide range of subtlety and nuance along with their broad and deep dimensions. It was a pleasure to try them. These were samples for review.
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Archery Summit Premier Cuvee Pinot Noir 2009, Willamette Valley. The grapes for Archery Summit’s entry level pinot noir derive from five vineyards, including the producer’s top Arcus Estate, Red Hills Estate and Archery Summit Estate acreage. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 46 percent new barrels. My first note is : “How lovely.” There’s real authority, authenticity and integrity here; the wine seethes with notes of black cherry, cola and cranberry layered over hints of rhubarb and cloves and a growing presence of briers and brambles. Flavors of black currants and plums, smoky oolong tea and mulberries harbor burgeoning earthiness and shale-like minerality, all ensconced in a luscious satiny texture balanced by bright acidity. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $45.
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Archery Summit Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley. Ribbon Ridge is Oregon’s smallest American Viticultural Area, encompassing 3,350 acres of which 500 acres are planted to vines; the region, awarded AVA status in 2005, lies within the Chehalem Mountain AVA, which in turn lies within the broader Willamette Valley AVA. The Archery Summit Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir ’09 aged 11 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. Elevating aromas of red and black currants and plums with undertones of cranberry and blueberry are deeply infused with hints of cloves and cola, rhubarb, briers and slate. A haze of exotic, woody spices and sweet floral notes informs flavors of black and blue fruit flavors cushioned by silky tannins and a vibrant acid structure that gains more density as the moments pass. An authentic marriage of power and elegance. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $85.
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The 12-acre Renegade Ridge Vineyard, farmed by biodynamic methods since 2004, stands next to the Archery Summit Estate Vineyard in Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills. The Archery Summit Renegade Ridge Pinot Noir 2009, Dundee Hills, aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 50 percent new, while, interestingly, 1/3 of it aged an additional 4 months. Does that process account for the wine’s unusually robust character and deep spicy elements, for this is a strapping, brawling pinot noir that one recognizes as pinot noir (one would not mistake it for syrah), but it exacts a price, subtracting some shades of meaning as it were, for its stalwart qualities. Do not look here for pinot’s fabled elegance and nuance, though this example certainly delivers an impressive snootful of powdered roses and violets, intense and concentrated black and red currants and plums and the whole redolent spice box of exoticism. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 to ’17. Very Good+. About $85.
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Fermented in traditional open-top wood vats and aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 56 percent new, the Archery Summit Red Hills Estate Pinot Noir 2009, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, is a deep, rich, savory pinot with intimations of iron and iodine and higher notes of sassafras and beet-root and rhubarb, cloves and licorice and spiced and macerated red and black currants and plums. Give the wine a few minutes in the glass, and it pulls up tons of brambles and briers and underbrush, giving it a firm, earthy (and then slate-like) dimension that cannot conceal a spirit of finesse and elegance; this is the sort of paradox that makes great wines infinitely expressive and interesting. To intensify the paradox, building from these aspects of dimension and detail, the wine concludes with a powerful, slightly woody and austere finish. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $85.
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Pure raspberry, black cherry and blueberry scents waft from a glass of the Archery Summit Arcus Estate 2009, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley. The wine fermented in a combination of open-top wood and stainless steel tanks and aged nine months in French oak, 70 percent new barrels. To that heady amalgam of bright fruit aromas are added notes of sour cherry and melon ball, cranberry and rhubarb, sweet Asian spices, mocha and rose petals. In terms of texture and structure, this is a robust, vibrant pinot noir that stops just shy of being syrah-like in opulence and earthy, graphite-tinged minerality, yet it never crosses the line, instead finding essential equilibrium in its seamless alliance of power and elegance; even the finish, for a large-framed wine, is supple and harmonious. Now through 2016 to ’19. Excellent. About $100.
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The Archery Summit Estate Pinot Noir 2009, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, is a black and blue wine, by which I mean that the color is darkly radiant ruby/black with a violet tinge and the range of fruit scents and flavors is black cherry, black plum and blueberry, highlighted by rhubarb (o.k., rhubarb is neither black nor blue), licorice and pepper. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 63 percent new barrels, and then an additional five months in older barrels. It’s broad and generous, a bit fleshy and macerated, yet firmly, almost rigorously structured by firm tannins, vibrant acidity and an undercurrent of graphite-like minerality; there’s an intriguing rooty, slightly vegetative component. This pinot was made in a fairly individual style, and while it’s more substantial than the pinots I adore — with that ineffable lightness of being wedded to essential earthiness — it’s quite remarkable for the manner in which it takes the grape to a singular stance, brooding yet selfless, of purity and intensity. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $150.
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Mixed reds and whites today, with some great wines, some good wines and some clunkers. Geography and prices are all over the map; this is how it gets done. Arrangement is by ascending outlay of shekels. Unless otherwise indicated, these were samples for review. As is the case with this “Friday Wine Sips” series, inaugurated last week, these brief reviews do not go into the more technical aspects of winemaking, history or geography.
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Un4seen Red Wine 2009, California (though Lodi & Clarksburg). 13.9% alc. A blend of zinfandel, malbec, petit verdot and merlot. Nothing offensive but even inexpensive wine needs more personality than this example of the bland leading the bland. Good. About $11.
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Much better is the un4seen White Wine 2010, California (again, Lodi & Clarksburg). 13.5% alc. A blend of chardonnay, semillon, moscato & viognier. Pale straw color with faint green tinge; fresh apple and peach, slightly leafy and floral, touch of fig; very dry and crisp, very nice texture, almost lush, vibrant, spicy; hint of grapefruit on the finish. Charming; drink up. Very Good. About $11, A Bargain.
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Villa Antinori 2010, Toscana I.G.T., Bianco. 12% alc. 50% trebbiano & malvasia, 35% pinot bianco & pinot grigio, 15% riesling. Dry, crisp, lively; apples and pears, hint of thyme and tarragon, touch of almond and almond blossom; scintillating limestone gradually insinuates itself (say that three times fast); quite pleasant and engaging, nice balance between bright acidity, clean and spicy citrus flavors and a modestly lush texture. Drink through Summer 2012. Very Good+. About $12, Great Value.
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Tormaresca Torcicoda Primitivo 2009, Salento I.G.T. 14% alc. Heaps of black pepper and cloves, forest, graphite, smoky black currants and plums; robust, plummy, juicy, chewy, dense with soft, grainy tannins and mineral elements; unusually well-balanced and integrated for primitivo; great with pizza, burgers, braised meats. Drink through 2013. Very Good+. About $17.
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Concannon Conservancy “Crimson & Clover” Red Wine 2009, Livermore Valley. 13.7% alc. Blend of 50% petite sirah, 25% cabernet sauvignon, 15% syrah, 10% zinfandel. Lacks oomph, stuffing, character; we speak of chemistry to describe the energy and magnetism of movie couples, but the grapes in this blend don’t provide that “chemistry.” Pleasant enough, but we deserve more for the price. Good. About $18.
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Ponzi Tavola Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.5% alc. Ponzi’s “entry-level” pinot. Entrancing medium ruby color with blue-black depths; smoky, spicy, earthy, wild; black cherry and mulberry edged by cranberry and rhubarb; super-satiny, dense, verges on chewy; graphite-like minerality, leather, brambles. Pure pinot with an untamed heart. Now through 2013. Excellent. About $25.
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Chateau Gombaude-Guillot 1996, Pomerol, Bordeaux. 13% alc. This is typically about 65% merlot and 30% cabernet franc with a dollop of malbec. Lovely balance and maturity, sweet spices, dried black and red fruit and flowers, undertones of cedar, tobacco and potpourri, mild earthiness and hints of leather. A real treat. I bought this to accompany our traditional Christmas Eve dinner of standing rib roast, Brussels sprouts in brown butter, roasted potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. Excellent. About $99.
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Oregon’s Torii Mor Vineyard and Winery is owned by Donald Olson, a doctor, and his wife Margie, pictured here. They founded the estate in 1993, gradually working its production up to 15,000 cases a year, primarily of vineyard-designated pinot noir. Located in the Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills AVA, the winery’s estate vineyard is 39 years old, one of the oldest in Dundee Hills. The winery facility was completed in 2007; it is certified LEED Gold, while the vineyard is certified by LIVE (Low Input Viticulture & Enology, Inc). Today’s Wines of the Week are a pinot gris and the winery’s “black label,” entry-level pinot noir. These wines were tasted at a local wholesaler’s trade event.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ My first note on the Torii Mor Pinot Gris, 2010, Willamette Valley, is “so lovely.” Made all in stainless steel and undergoing no malolactic fermentation, the wine is crisp, fresh and lively and subtly woven from nuances of almond, almond blossom and honeysuckle, cloves and ginger, peach and pear and wisps of roasted lemon and lemon balm; yes, it’s as delightful as it sounds and delicate rather than overwhelmingly floral. Vibrant with quenching acidity and resonant with some limestone-like minerality on the finish, the wine features flavors of spicy lemon and tangerine with a hint of pear; the finish picks up a bit of dry grapefruit bitterness. Quite charming and tasty, and a perfect porch, patio, pool and picnic wine. A sensible and safe 12.2 percent alcohol. Production was 1,800 cases. Very Good+. About $17-$18.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Torii More “Black Label” Pinot Noir 2008. Willamette Valley, represents the winery’s entry-level pinot noir, composed as it is of grapes from 17 vineyards. The oak regimen is fascinating: the wine ages 10 months in mostly French oak, with “a few” Hungarian oak barrels, 19 percent new barrels; 25 percent one-year-old; 23 percent two-years-old; 33 percent older neutral barrels. The result is very subtle oak influence, a gentle shaping of wood and slightly woody spice that bolsters and cushions the wine’s fruit and structure without imposing a woody character or dominating in any way; this is how thoughtful all oak maturing in the winery — any and every winery — should be. The color is a very Burgundian light to medium ruby; a bouquet of smoky black cherry, raspberries and plums is infused with cloves and cinnamon and touches of cola and cranberry. Spicy black cherry and plum flavors are lean and sinewy with palate-plowing acidity, yet plumped out with a texture that’s more velvety than classically satiny; from midway back, elements of briers and brambles and other foresty qualities lend the wine a requisite brush of earthiness. A completely reasonable 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $22.
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On April 25, I made the Carlton Cellars Cannon Beach Pinot Gris 2010, Willamette Valley the Wine of the Week. Now let’s look at three of the small winery’s pinot noirs, the variety for which it is best known. I tasted these wines with co-owner, grower and winemaker Dave Grooters when he was in town at the end of April, and, after trying these pinots, I was surprised when he said, “I like big fat fruit bombs,” because these wines are anything but “big fat fruit bombs.” Big in structure, perhaps, especially the Cape Lookout and the Roads End, but fruit is well-shaped and expressive without being over-ripe, flamboyant or opulent.
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The Seven Devils Pinot Noir 2009, Willamette Valley, is Carlton Cellars’ entry-level pinot. About 50 percent of the grapes derive from the winery’s Russell-Grooters Vineyard on Savannah Ridge in the Yamhill-Carlton appellation with the rest coming from various other Willamette vineyards. The wine ages 10 months in French barrels but sees no new oak; it’s all second-, third- and fourth-use. The color is medium ruby with a hint of magenta-pink at the rim. Aromas of black cherry and black and red currants are spicy with notes of cloves and cinnamon and quite ripe, meaty and fleshy; the immediately appealing fragrance is heady and seductive. Matters calm down considerably in the mouth, where the wine offers straightforward black and red fruit flavors permeated by baking spice, touches of underbrush and moderately dense but fairly muscular tannins, all leading to a dry, minerally — in the finely-milled graphite sense — finish. Quite enjoyable, though I was a bit surprised by the tannins. Drink through 2014. Production was 950 cases. 14.3 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $22.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Considerably more character comes from the Cape Lookout Pinot Noir 2008, which carries an Oregon designation, though the grape’s all come from the winery’s Russell-Grooters estate vineyard in Yamhill-Carlton. The wine ages 10 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels. This is classic stuff, with penetrating notes of pure, intense and spicy black cherry, cranberry and cola layered over the Willamette Valley’s signature quality of clean earthiness rooted in briers and brambles. Oak gives the wine suppleness and shapeliness and indeed begins to dominate from mid-palate back after a few minutes pass; another year in the bottle will smooth it out more. Still, there’s deep flavor galore here wedded to vibrant acidity and firm, almost plush tannins, though a sinewy texture lends the wine some edge. Russell-Grooters was planted in 2003, so these are young vines that won’t truly come into their own for another three to five years; it’s a vineyard to watch as the vines mature. Production was 576 cases. 13.4 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $30.
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Top of the line at Carlton Cellars is the Roads End Pinot Noir 2008, 40 percent of the grapes coming from Russell-Grooters, the rest from a vineyard in the McMinnville AVA and another vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA. The oak regimen is the same as for the Cape Lookout Pinot Noir 2008, that is, 10 months in French barrels, 50 percent new oak. Boy, you feel the difference, though, in this wine’s engagement and heft, in its increased level of spice, its fine and rich details of blueberry, cranberry, rhubarb and cola, its veritable darkness of intention and effect. The Roads End 08 is a lithe and muscular wine, and if ever a pinot noir exemplified the notion of a pent animal awaiting release, brother, this is it. No, this is not a pinot for fans of the delicate and elegant style, which, I confess, I find more appealing and authentic, but it would be difficult to deny the authority and confidence this model embodies. 288 cases were produced. 13.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 to ’15. Excellent. About $45.
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