jamie goode's wine blog

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A silky Oregon Pinot Noir

Last year I really enjoyed visiting Oregon for the first time, and developed a liking for Oregon Pinot Noir. Here's a really good one that I cracked open last night, and am finishing off tonight.

Torii Mor Pinot Noir La Colina Vineyard 2006 Dundee Hills, Oregon
Winemaker Jacques Tardy has used one-third new oak for this single-vineyard Pinot. It is sweetly aromatic with a dark cherry nose and notes of meat and spice. The palate is ripe and smooth with lovely texture. Mineral notes complement the subtly meaty, silky textured plum and cherry fruit. Stylish. 92/100

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Another remarkable day

It has been another busy day. I am lucky to have one of the best jobs in the world.

I began with coffee with Andre Van Rensburg of South African super-estate Vergelegen (pictured above). Andre is a wine journalist's dream. He's talkative, controversial, direct - and smart and well informed with it. Our discussion was wide ranging, taking in subjects as diverse as leaf roll virus/mealybug, the over-emphasis of methoxypyrazines in Sauvignon Blanc and the concept of icon wines.

Then it was off to the Sainsbury's press tasting. Two stand-out wines that you must buy are the 2007 Taste The Difference Cotes du Rhone, which is 5.99 but tastes better than wines twice the price, and the 'Limited Release' McLaren Vale Shiraz 2008 which was sourced from Phil Sexton's Innocent Bystander operation, has a splash of Viognier and 15% Victorian Shiraz in it, and has beautiful concentration and texture. It will be on the shelf at 8.99 (good value at this price) but then discounted to 5.99 (which makes it absurdly cheap).

Next up, the 2007 Vintage Port preview at Somerset House (pictured). I hadn't read my invitation properly, so I was delighted when I got there to find out that the Ports from 2000 and 2003 were also being shown. Included were the Symington/Fladgate Partnership/Noval Ports. I set about the older vintages like a kid in a sweet shop ('candy store' for Americans). I love the 2000 vintage, and love the 2003 vintage perhaps a little more. The good news is that the 2007 vintage is fantastic: perhaps more on the fruit-driven style, but the aromatics and intensity on some of these wines was stunning. Dow, Graham, Noval, Silval and Romaneira were my picks from 2007. For 2003, Fonseca, Graham, Noval, Taylor, Vesuvio and Warre were all stunning. For 2000, Fonseca, Noval, Taylor, Vesuvio and (surprise) Smith Woodhouse were my top picks.

Then it was off to Bibendum, for a tasting of 31 Pinot Noirs from Oregon, 2007 vintage. It was a blind tasting for Tim Marson's MW dissertation, looking at whether the various Willamette AVAs are recognizable blind across a range of producers. This was a vintage spoiled a bit by harvest rain - and, interestingly, some of the wines were showing some rot/geosmin characters to the extent that I'd dismiss them as faulty.
Tonight I've played football, and tomorrow it's day 2 of the test match at Lords.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

The world's best Pinot Noirs

When I was first getting into wine, the line with Pinot Noir was that it was a tricky grape that didn't really perform outside Burgundy.

Relearn. That's just not true anymore. Aside from the top producers and the best vineyards, Pinot Noir doesn't perform all that well in Burgundy. And now other countries are getting much more consistent results.

My desert island Pinot Noirs are the famed wines of Burgundy. But I can't really afford them, and buying affordable red Burgundy is generally an unrewarding business. My rankings of the best Pinot Noir producing regions now reads more like this:

= 1. New Zealand (Waipara, Wairarapa, Central Otago, Marlborough)
=1. Oregon
3. Burgundy

Today's wine has been an incredibly elegant Kiwi Pinot Noir, and the dregs of yesterday's De Bortoli. The Kiwi Pinot is the best I've yet tried from Marlborough.

Koru Pinot Noir 2007 Marlboroughy, New Zealand
From a single 1.1 hectare vineyard, just 311 cases were made. This is special. Beautifully smooth, pure, complex, elegant nose of dark cherry and plum fruit, with some deeper spice and herb notes. The palate is concentrated and intense with lovely rich cherry fruit, but its trademark is that it is just so elegant, with a wonderful minerality and smooth, silky texture. Brilliant effort, although it is, sadly, rather expensive. 93/100 (34 Hellion Wines)

see also: my note on the Koru Sauvignon Blanc 2007

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Video: visiting Beaux Freres, Oregon

A short film from a visit to one of the leading Oregon Pinot Noir producers, Beaux Freres.

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Video: visiting Brick House, biodynamic Oregon producer

A short film from a visit to Doug Tunnell's Brick House winery (reported in detail here). We begin by looking at the compost heap...

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Oregon day 4

One of the most striking facets of this trip has been how nice the people are here. Yes, I know when you are press visiting wineries, people are usually showing you their best face, but beyond this, I've been struck by a genuine warmth, and also the sense of camaraderie that exists between the growers here. Any region that could have sustained an event such as the IPNC for 22 years has to have some special sense of cooperative endeavour and working for the greater good - the internal rivalries that exist in many regions globally would have ensured that an event like this would have imploded long ago, if it ever got off the ground.

I started off at Eyrie Vinyeards, one of the pioneers here, with a meeting with Jason Lett (above) and Emily Stoller Smith. Jason has recently taken over from his father, David, but only came back to the family business rather late, after having spent some time working as an ecologist in New Mexico. The wines here are quite beautiful, made in a light, elegant style but with real complexity and development potential. I was really taken by the beauty of these expressions of Pinot, and found the Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc pretty impressive, too.

Lunch was at Domaine Drouhin Oregon, whose vineyards are remarkable for their Burgundian-style close spacing and low hedging. The wines are pretty impressive, too. David Millman (MD) and Arron Bell (cellarmaster) are pictured. We lunched causally on BLT sandwiches washed down with some of the DDO wines. It was an extremely informal visit, but fun. By now the morning clouds had lifted and it was another gorgeously sunny summer's day.

Next up was Torii Mor, where I met Margie Olsen and her French winemaker Jacques. They have a beautiful new winery which supplies almost half its power requirements with large solar panels. The tasting room has a Japanese garden, and stunning views from the hilltop location. The wines, once again, impressed. Pictured above is some work in the cellar, moving the wine from barrel to a blending tank with the help of nitrogen.

The final winery visit was at Stoller. A large estate that had once been a turkey farm is now a stunning vineyard with an equally stunning new winery. Here I met with winemaker Melissa Burr and cellar room manager Mich Nelson (pictured), who were both charming, and tasted the wines, which were very impressive (this is getting a bit boring, isn't it? Can we have some bad wine? Anyone? Anyone?). Melissa had a cross-flow filtration unit running, which she was very excited about - we compared the before and after versions of the 2007 JV Pinot Noir which was running through it at the time.

Finally, the Founder's dinner at Ponzi's restaurant in Dundee. Along with Nanci Ponzi, the company assembled was Myron Redford and Vicki Wetle (Amity), Jim Bernau (Willamette Valley Vineyards), Marilyn Webb (Bethel Heights), Susan Sokol Blosser (Sokol Blosser) and fellow writers Tom Cannavan and Stephen Brook. A jollier, more friendly crowd you could not wish to meet, and we drank (and spat; we were all driving) some lovely wines, including a stunning 1978 Winemaker's Reserve Pinot Noir from Amity.
It's now my final morning, and I have two visits before catching my plane home.
As usual, all these visits will be written up in depth on the main site.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Oregon wine country, day 3

Some brief notes from the road. Day 3, Oregon. Started off at Beaux Freres winery, with Mike Etzel. It was a really educational visit. Mike has two hillside vineyards, hidden away among woodland - indeed, most of his property is wooded, and it's quite beautiful. The vineyards are farmed biodynamically, and the wines are among Oregon's most prized. Above is the in-row cultivator at work, while below the old fire engine is used for developing the compost heaps, which need a lot of water. We spent a fair bit of time in the vineyards, tasted some barrels and then had lunch at a brilliant, inexpensive Mexican joint in town.
After glorious sunshine all the way, the weather was a bit of a shock: showers and temperatures in the high sixties made it feel pretty cool. Next up, one of the pioneers, Elk Cove. Adam, who has taken over from his parents, recalls that when they came here in the early 1970s the family lived in a van as the site was developed - and this was when there were less than 100 acres of vines in Oregon.

Patton Valley Vineyards was a good visit: Jerry Murray runs this small operation, and has a welcoming committee of two very sweet dogs, a beagle and a Boston Terrier (she's pictured here with a vole in her mouth).
Finally, dinner was with the Oregon Chardonnay Alliance (ORCA). David Adelsheim was responsible for identifying the problem with Oregon Chardonnay (the wrong clone was being used) and he helped bring the Bernard clones into Oregon in the 1980s. Since then the quality of Oregon Chardonnay has leapt, but for some reason each year there's less and less of it, as everyone goes after Pinot Gris and the other Alsace aromatics for whites. We enjoyed a really nice dinner at Nick's Italian in McMinnville, with some great Chardonnay. David Millman of Domaine Drouhin Oregon was also there, along with Chris Sawyer (a writer) and his buddy.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

On the road in Oregon wine country, day 2

Woke up early at King Estate to a gorgeous summer's day and a beautiful view. After some coffee, a pastry and a vanilla bean yoghurt I drove up to the winery to taste with winemaker Lindsay Kampff, who was brilliant in dealing with my geeky techno-head questions. The wines were good too, and like many young winemakers in larger companies, she's also got her own small label called Journey's End, a high-end Pinot which impressed.

By the time I left for my next appointment, the temperature was nudging 80 F, with a bright blue sky plus a little haze on the horizon from the fires lit by grass seed farmers to deal with their stubble. Oregon is one of the world centres for grass seed, as well as hazelnuts (second only to Turkey here). In fact, the Willamette Valley grows just about everything. I was tempted to stop at one of the the pick-your-own blueberry farms, because they looked so gorgeous.

Next stop was Benton Lane, another beautiful property with rolling hillside vineyards. It's owned by Steve and Carol Girard, who moved here from Napa some years ago, having identified it as a perfect place to grow Pinot. We lunched on delicious home-made pizza that they fired in their Pizza oven, and it was hard to leave for the next appointment. Once again, the wines were very good.

After quite a drive north, I headed to Bethel Heights - a pioneering property in the new AVA of Eola-Amity Hills that's home to identical twin brothers Ted and Terry Casteel and their families. It's yet another beautiful property (I haven't encountered any ugly or boring Oregon vineyards yet) and the wines are quite special, including a brilliant Chardonnay and some mesmerising Pinots.
A short drive over to the other side of the hill took me to the final visit of the day: Cristom. Steve Doerner (above) is making some amazing Pinot Noir here, as well as an impressive cool-climate Syrah that's amazingly fresh and peppery. It turns out that Steve is a bit of a guitar nut, so we had a fun conversation telling each other which guitars we had.

Finally, after checking into my hotel in McMinnville, I had dinner with Bryan Croft from Firesteed at a Spanish joint in town. It was a lovely dinner, and I was amazed to find out how inexpensive the Firesteed Pinot Noir is ($13-15 on the shelf), because it's actually pretty good.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Oregon wine route, day 1

The IPNC finished at noon, and I hit the road. I had a bit of a scare as I packed: I couldn't find my good buddy Garmin anywhere. Then I realized that in my jet-lagged state on Friday I must have left him at the hotel reception desk. So I asked if anyone had handed in a Sat Nav. Blank stares. Went back to the room to double check. Came back and asked whether a GPS had been handed in. 'Oh yes. Here it is.'

First stop was Brick House, a biodynamic winery run by ex-CBS news guy Doug Tunnell. It was a lovely visit, and Doug even took the temperature of his compost heap for me (above). Oregon wine country is quite beautiful, with rolling hills and warm but not excessively hot summer days. Doug's property is just idyllic.

Then it was time for a long drive down to King Estate (above), which is near Eugene, just past the end of the Willamette Valley. It took over two hours, but was worth it - King Estate is a truly beautiful place. It's a large operation, with more than 1000 acres, of which over 400 are planted to vines. It's the largest single contiguous organic vineyard in the USA, and probably the new world. Are there any bigger organic vineyards in Europe? I had a lovely dinner last night with the Japanese importers, and this morning I'm finishing my visit here and then heading off on the road again.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Day two of the IPNC

So, it's day two of the IPNC here in sunny McMinnville, OR. I got caught out last night by the diurnal temperature differential which is of Mendoza proportions: 80 degrees by day, 50 by night. Consequently, I froze as the dinner progressed and I was wearing just shirt sleeves. So today I hit downtown looking for some warmer clothing options. The only shop selling clothes, as far as I could tell, was a surf/skate dude shop. I shall be attending tonight's salmon bake looking like a wannabe 19 year old skateboarder.

Spare a thought for Tyler Colman whose Mac died on him. News travels fast, though. Someone came up to him today and said words to the effect of, 'Tyler, can **** have your power supply now you won't be needing it.'

This morning we had our seminar on sustainability. We began with the Jasper (Morris) and Dominique (Lafon) show, which Jasper chaired fantastically. We tasted Dominique's wines as he told us about his journey to biodynamie. We were about two thirds of the way through when one of the audience asked whether Dom could explain more about how he uses Vitamin E in his winemaking. It was a wonderful moment.
Then there was a panel with five Pinot Noir producers from around the world talking about their interest in sustainability. Ted Lemon, of Littorai outlined his four definitions of biodynamy.

  • The farm should be seen as a self-contained individuality, with the goal that it should be entirely self-sustaining
  • The material world is nothing more than condensed spirit, so we are farming the spirit rather than material.
  • The idea of using preparations is that by putting them on the ground it enhances the spirit dimension of your farm.
  • The enhanced wine and food grown using biodynamics gives us the force to confront the challenges of our lives.
Following the seminar there was a really nice lunch including some great wines, and also one of the most remarkable gastronomic experiences I've had. It was a suite of three bacon desserts. Yes, bacon. And they worked amazingly well. These were made by Cheryl Wakerhauser from Pix Patisserie in Portland.
[Note: message edited and a comment deleted to prevent someone getting into trouble]

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

In Oregon: the IPNC, first day

Just woken up on day two of my Oregon trip, where I'm currently in McMinnville attending the IPNC (International Pinot Noir Celebration). It really is a fantastic event, bringing together Oregon's Pinot Noir producers with some high calibre international guest wineries for a weekend of serious tasting and some pretty serious dining. Pictured above is the setting for the dinner last night, which was in the pretty campus of Linfield college where the event is being hosted.

I had a very pleasant flight with Northwestern, which was a surprise because last time I flew with an American carrier it wasn't a good experience. Watched a couple of films, slept, and ate and drank reasonably well, including a really nice Cab/Malbec blend from Waterwheel. Even Homeland Security was a better experience than I was expecting: the guy who dealt with me was charming and turned out to be a bit of a wine buff.

I picked up my hire car from Portland, and with the help of my good buddy Garmin managed to find McMinnville pretty painlessly. I checked in, and then went to buy a cheap pay-as-you-go mobile, because mine doesn't work here. Customer service at the AT&T shop was brilliant. Total cost a very reasonable $60, including $25 talk time.

Then off to the IPNC. I did the pre-dinner tasting, which was a casual outdoor walkaround affair - there were some really good wines (I don't want to say too much more until I've tasted more widely). Then it was time for the grand dinner - a jolly affair with frequent small pours of a huge range of wines, and really good food. I was sitting with fellow journos Tyler Colman of Dr Vino (http://www.drvino.com/), Elin McCoy (Bloomberg) and Patrick Comiskey (Wine & Spirits magazine). Fellow brits Stephen Brook and Jasper Morris are also here. Now I must go and get some breakfast before the sessions begin.

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