Chardonnay in Oregon
The best Oregon Chardonnays, unsurprisingly, display distinct Burgundian character and these wines are made in a fashion similar to their Old World role models. Also unsurprisingly, most of the best examples are being made by winemakers who are from Burgundy, were trained and educated in the region, or at the very least have
spent and continue to spend time there. While only a handful of Oregon’s Chardonnays can compete with the best of California to this point, the top examples are indeed among the very best Chardonnays I’ve had from the New World and, in fact, are as good as many highly regarded white Burgundies. Among the best examples of Oregon Chardonnay, and there are a number of them, I highly recommended those from Bergström, Lavinea Single Vineyard Wines, Arterberry-Maresh, Walter Scott, Ponzi, Stoller, Eyrie, Amalie Robert, Big Table Farm, Domaine Serene and Domaine Drouhin. I also quite like the often off-beat, Old World versions made by Johan Vineyards and Brick House.
2014 Her Silhouette Chardonnay: Pale gold. Mineral-laced pear nectarine and pineapple scents take on a hint of toasty lees. Juicy and focused on the palate offering gripping pear skin lemon pith fennel and quinine flavors that show a refreshingly bitter edge. Closes dry and nervy featuring building mineral and anise notes and very good persistence. 91 points January 2017
2013 Heirloom Cameo Chardonnay: Light green-tinged yellow. Musky citrus pith orchard fruits and honey on the assertively perfumed nose; hints of toasted brioche and vanilla emerge with air. Juicy and expansive on the palate offering smoke-tinged poached pear Meyer lemon and candied ginger flavors that tighten up slowly on the back half. Finishes on a zesty orange note displaying very good toasty persistence and a lingering suggestion of honeysuckle. 91 points January 2017
2013 Pabuk’s Gift Late Harvest Chardonnay: (375 ml.) Copper-tinged gold. Deeply perfumed smoke-accented pit fruit liqueur honey and floral scents show a hint of toasted grain in the background. Lush and broad on the palate offering intensely sweet apricot and candied pear flavors and a strong jolt of mint on the back half. Hangs on with impressive tenacity on the finish leaving notes of honey mint and candied pit fruits behind. 92 points January 2017
Amalie Robert, one of Oregon’s premier Pinot Noir producers, make a wonderful example of Pinot Meunier from their own vines but production is limited to around four barrels per vintage, making it a literal drop in the State’s wine bucket. Pinot Meunier is planted here and there throughout the Willamette Valley and while I cannot determine exactly how many acres are planted in total, I do know that it’s less than 80, because any grape whose acreage falls below that number is lumped into the “other varieties” category in the State’s grape census. And the vast majority of that tiny quantity of wine winds up in sparkling wine blends. So for now at least, Pinot Meunier’s potential is still unrealized.
2014 Pinot Meunier: Brilliant red. Bright mineral- and spice-accented cherry pit and raspberry scents develop subtle earth and rose pastille notes as the wine opens up. Juicy and focused on the palate offering bitter cherry and raspberry flavors that slowly tighten up and become deeper on the back half. Delivers a solid punch of flavors but comes off vibrant displaying no excess fat supple tannins and emphatic finishing spiciness. 92 points January 2017
I have become increasingly enthused by Oregon’s performance with Syrah, especially because so many of the wines are being made with a strong nod to the northern Rhône. Whole-cluster fermentations are mostly the rule here, and many of these wines show the cool, spicy, floral character that distinguishes some of the Rhône Valley’s best examples of the variety, especially those from Côte-Rôtie. As I mentioned earlier, the Rogue Valley is producing most of the best examples of Syrah, and a number of the Willamette Valley’s best Pinot Noir producers have been buying fruit from the Rogue Valley in recent years as they expand their own winemaking repertoire, often with noteworthy success.
2012 Satisfaction Syrah: Vivid ruby. Heady spice- and mineral-accented raspberry and cherry scents show excellent clarity and pick up subtle woodsmoke and cola nuances as the wine opens up. Alluringly sweet and precise on the palate offering intense red fruit liqueur blood orange spicecake and violet pastille flavors that show a suave blend of richness of vivacity and no rough edges that I can detect. Finishes very long sappy and smooth with fine-grained tannins lending gentle grip. 92 points January 2017
As the number of Oregon Viognier bottlings has increased (even though plantings actually dropped from 257 acres in 2014 to 241 in 2015), so too has the overall quality of the wines. In the past, too many bottlings were dull and tired, with early drinking mandatory. Many others were the polar opposites of these flat wines, showing shrill, high-acid character due to underripe or overcropped fruit, while still others were subjected to brutal oak treatment that masked varietal aromatic character, which is what Viognier is really all about.
2015 Viognier Late Harvest Our Muse: (375 ml.) Pale yellow-gold. Deep-pitched yellow apple pear nectar honey and nougat aromas lent vivacity by a gingery nuance. Smooth supple and appealingly sweet orchard and pit fruit flavors take a drier turn on the back half picking up a hint of green almond. Lush and weighty but surprisingly firm finishing long and subtly spicy with a lingering hint of orange pith. 91 points January 2017
Amalie Robert Estate
Excerpts from "Oregon: Beyond Pinot Noir" by Josh Raynolds, Vinous, January 4, 2017