Oregon's quality pinots join the bargain ranks
In the wine industry's price-cutting storm, quality Oregon pinot noir is breaking into the under-$20 ranks, and buyers are the lucky ones.
Special to the Seattle Times
Pick of the week
Underwood Cellars 2008 Pinot Noir; $12
Light but honest — meaning it has not been doctored up with petite sirah to make it seem darker and more tannic than it is. Sour cherry, sharp acids and a hint of ground coffee threaded through the finish.
BARGAINS ABOUND these days. Recently I've seen ultra-prestigious California cabernets literally offering a free case of wine with the purchase of a case at the regular price; online retailers featuring closeouts on high-scoring wines that simply had the bad luck to be released into this discounting maelstrom; and here in the Pacific Northwest, wineries are scrambling to sell backlogged vintages ahead of the upcoming spring releases.
In Oregon, pinot noirs have for years been surfing an unprecedented wave of popularity. Kicked off by the film "Sideways" and buoyed by the limited availability of the wines and the proliferation of single-vineyard bottlings, pinot prices had risen steadily over the past decade or more. Now they are coming back down.
Not only are prices on the single-vineyard wines dropping (or at the very least holding firm), but more and more excellent Oregon pinots are also breaking under the $20 price barrier. They may have a distinct herbal edge to them, but it's not the overly aggressive, tomato-leaf quality that used to be commonplace in the bargain-bin bottles. The descriptors I often use are fresh herb — rosemary or thyme — and sassafras, a root-beer flavor that can be quite compelling. These wines are also drifting down in alcohol content, partly as a result of cooler vintages in 2007 and 2008.
There are still Oregon winemakers who want to extract the maximum fruit, color and sugar from their grapes, and they make dense, sappy, purple/black pinots that can easily be mistaken for syrah in a blind tasting. But the pinot noir grape as expressed in classic Burgundy is more often relatively pale in color, elegant and refined in the mouth, and built for graceful aging rather than pure power. Here are some recent favorites:
Westland 2008 Pinot Noir ($18). The second label of Methven Family Vineyards, this light, fresh pinot offers pretty scents of rose petals, cocoa and baking spices, with tart cranberry fruit.
Phelps Creek 2008 Le Petit Pinot Noir ($18). On the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge, Phelps Creek makes this soft and fruit-forward bottling. It's scented with crushed strawberries and violets, with the fruity freshness of a good Beaujolais.
Erath 2008 Oregon Pinot Noir ($19). Widely available now that it is owned by Ste. Michelle, this is tight and herbal, with flavors of tart red berries, hints of citrus rind and fine balance.
Coeur de Terre 2007 Pinot Noir ($20). Soft and plush, with spicy cranberry and cola flavors. Forward, textured and very appealing.
Acrobat 2008 Pinot Noir ($20). Acrobat is a new label from King Estate. Cranberry, raspberry and black cherry fruit is backed with moderate tannins, baking chocolate, caramel and toasted hazelnuts.
Illahe 2007 Pinot Noir ($20). Forward and fruity, with a core of sweet cherry and raspberry. It's round and ripe, very nicely balanced and supported with bracing acidity.
Carabella 2007 Plowbuster Pinot Noir ($20). Plowbuster is Carabella's second label. Wild berries and cocoa powder, along with tannins tasting a bit like green tea.
Thistle 2006 Pinot Noir ($24). The one wine here that breaks the $20 barrier, this is still exceptionally fine for the price, several cuts above the other wines on this page. This is Oregon pinot at its best, with great purity of fruit, tremendous focus and concentration.
About Wine Adviser
My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.
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