I am fond of pinot noir wines from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, particularly for what I perceive to be a general feature of such wines, a thread of rich, damp loamy character that bolsters the other qualities of fruit, acidity and minerality. I love this sensation that feels like a grounding in the earth, this evidence of things unseen under the vineyard. The Willamette Valley AVA was approved in 1984, and over the years was divided into six sub-AVAs as variations in micro-climate and soil were identified. The smaller AVAs are Dundee Hills, McMinnville, Eola-Amity Hills, Chehalem Mountains, Ribbon Ridge and Yamhill-Carlton. What’s interesting about the last region is that only grapes grown in vineyards from 200 to 1,000-feet elevation are entitled to the appellation; the federal government is typically not so fastidious about such matters. The wines under review today originate from the general Willamette AVA and from three of the sub-AVAs. The vintages run from 2011 to 2014, but are mainly 2012 and ’13, both excellent years for the area. As usual in the Weekend Wine Notes posts, I eschew details of technical, historical, geographical and personality elements for the sake for incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks and designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. With two exceptions, duly noted, these wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
Argyle Nuthouse Lone Star Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Eola-Amity Hills. 13.5% alc. Beguiling transparent medium ruby hue; a complex and seamless layering of iodine, plums and graphite, sassafras, rhubarb and pomegranate, with plenty of smoked black cherries as highlights; supple, light and racy but offering pleasing depth and dimension in texture and structure; almost succulent in its tasty ripeness but honed by bright acidity; some time in the glass brings in hints of leather and loam. Pretty much a masterpiece, for drinking through 2020 to 2023. Excellent. About $50.
David Hill Vineyards and Winery Black Jack Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley. 13.8% alc. This pinot noir spent two years in new and used French oak, a device that contributes both to its superficial exoticism and to a general flattening and muting of varietal character. Very Good. About $55.
Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette valley. 13.1% alc. Medium ruby color with a brick-red rim; cloves and sandalwood, violets and lavender, graphite and loam; spiced and macerated red and black currants and cherries with a background of plums; displays the profound structure and presence that a reserve wine should evince, but not without elegance and finesse; a deep foresty element with a glossy iodine and iron sheen. Now through 2023 to ’25. Excellent. About $75. (A local purchase, about $85.)
Erath Winery Prince Hill Pinot Noir 2012, Dundee Hills. 13.5% alc. Limpid medium ruby color; first come exotic notes of cloves, sandalwood and rose petals, followed by red cherries and currants, leather and loam, briers and brambles; a lithe and sinewy interpretation of the grape, with acid that plows a furrow on the palate and a background of graphite minerality; soft, slightly talc-like tannins take on more rigor as the moments pass, serving as framework for red berries seemingly steeped in some rooty black tea. Elemental. Now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $50.
Ghost Hill Cellars Bayliss-Bower Vineyards Pinot Noir Blanc 2013, Yamhill-carlton. 13.5% alc. I find the white pinot noir phenomenon inexplicable, though this example is appealing enough, with laudable delicacy and elegance. Brilliant topaz-light copper hue; orange zest and peaches, notes of red cherries and currants; slightly loamy, a touch meadowy; bright acidity but still, the wine is curiously characterless. Drink up. Very Good. About $25.
Grochau Cellars Pinot Noir 2012, Dundee Hills. 14.1% alc. Transparent medium ruby-garnet; earthy and spicy, with loam, briers and brambles, cloves and allspice; macerated red and black cherries with a hint of cranberry; spare and sinewy, with acidity that plows a furrow; very dry, a lovely texture, but a fairly rigorous and demanding pinot noir (which I like). Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $33.
Grochau Cellars Pinot Noir 2012, Eola-Amity. 14.1% alc. Slightly darker ruby color with a tinge of magenta; red currants and cherries with a note of pomegranate; dense, spicy; graphite-edged tannins and a lithe, supple texture; you feel the earth, the leather, some root-like tea and smoke-etched autumn leaves; grows loamier and spicier as the moments pass, while the hints of dried red berries circulate. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $33.
Lenne Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Yamhill-Carlton. 14.5% alc. 586 cases. A delicate medium ruby hue; red and black cherries, pomegranate and cranberry, cloves, sassafras and white pepper; just a lovely, lithe, graceful pinot noir that gradually pulls up elements of loam, sour cherry and melon, briers and brambles; it gets denser and more intense as the moments pass, but never loses its foothold in elegance and an eloquent expression of the grape. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $45.
Lenne Estate Kill Hill Pinot Noir 2013, Yamhill-Carlton. 13.5% alc. 75 cases. Transcendent medium ruby hue shading to magenta; cloves and sassafras, black cherries and currants freighted by a seam of loam, briers and brambles; a sort of talc-like powderiness about the texture cut by bright acidity; a finish of leather, loam and graphite and a high note of cranberry. Beguiling marriage of elegance and energy. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $55.
The label image is one vintage behind.
Patricia Green Cellars Reserve Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley. 14% alc. Medium ruby shading to a transparent magenta rim; spiced and macerated black and red cherries and currants, iodine and mint, loam and licorice; quite lively and engaging, with resonant acidity and scintillating graphite minerality, these elements bolstering a compote of red and black berry flavors whose hints of dried spices and herbs — cloves, sage, thyme — serve to point up the wine’s purity and intensity. Try from 2017 through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $25. (A local purchase, $28.)
Ponzi Vineyards Tavola Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley. 13.7% alc. Medium transparent ruby-magenta color; smoky and spicy black cherries, opens to cloves, sandalwood and rose petals; lots of energy and presence and a definite tannic structure; super-satiny texture laves the palate; the loamy aspects burgeon; terrific substance but at the expense of elegance and finesse. Now through 2020 to ’22. Very Good+. About $27.
Vidon Vineyard 3 Clones Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Chehalem mountain. 14.3% alc. 480 cases. Medium transparent ruby color; bright, fresh and vital, with red cherries and raspberries and a hint of cranberry, notes of cloves, rhubarb and beetroot; incisive acidity cuts a swath; quite graceful, nothing obvious or opulent; pulls up more spice and a slightly dusty tannic element; touches of melon, sour cherry and apple skin on the elegant finish. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $40.
Vidon Vineyard 3 Clones Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Chehalem Mountain. 13.9% alc. 518 cases. Medium Ruby-garnet hue; heady aromas of mint and sassafras, cranberry, pomegranate and cloves, dried cherries and currants; almost supernaturally sleek, supple and satiny in texture, with a chiseled arrow of acidity that lends spareness to a fairly rigorous structure; a few minutes in the glass bring up notes of underbrush and loam. A beautifully constructed pinot noir, now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $40.
Youngberg Hill Jordan Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley. 12% alc. It’s interesting that I wrote about the 2012 versions of these Youngberg Hill wines a year ago but received the 2011s for review later; here’s a link to those reviews. A lovely limpid light ruby color; lean and incisive, with elevating aromas of cranberry and cloves, sassafras, a hint of rhubarb and pomegranate, red raspberries and currants; beautifully-wrought, with acidity that carves a path through tasty red berry flavors and a haze of leafy-herbal notes; the spice element expands through the graphite-laden finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $50.
Youngberg Hill Natasha Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette valley. 11.5% alc. Entrancing transparent ruby hue; first come earth and leather, loam and briers, presaging a pinot noir focused on structure; smolders with smoke and graphite, buoying ripe, dark and spicy red cherries and raspberries, permeated by dried sage and heather; the texture is silky, lithe, spare; acidity cuts a path through the foresty-underbrush elements; a few minutes in the glass unfold whiffs of tobacco and cigarette paper. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $50.
As you can see, these label images are for later vintages of the wines mentioned here.