The 2019 Pinot Noirs from Oregon – A return to classicism (February 2022) | Vinous


The 2019 Pinot Noirs from Oregon – A return to classicism


The Willamette Valley’s winning streak, which has rarely been interrupted over the past two decades, continued into 2019, a year that produced epic Pinot Noirs of remarkable elegance and energy. This is truly a golden age for high-quality Pinot Noirs from all over Oregon. It could be argued persuasively that the last six vintages, from 2014 to 2019, have produced many of the greatest wines ever to come out of the state.

Mike Etzel’s Sequitur Vineyard in the heart of Ribbon Ridge is still relatively young, but it’s already showing great potential, both in his hands and with those to whom he sells fruit.

The 2019 growing season and wines

Unlike previous vintages, the 2019 growing season started cold and rainy, but the weather slowly warmed and spring temperatures were relatively normal. Conditions were quite cool in some areas, including the Eola-Amity Hills, which always benefit from the cold winds from the Pacific Ocean. It also rained at times in the Willamette Valley, with a few isolated freezing spells, but nothing too dangerous or destructive. Heavy rains fell in late June and early July, which slowed ripening while accelerating growth and increasing disease pressure, including mildew. But well-managed vineyards, which fortunately tend to be the rule here, have survived with relatively little serious damage, aside from reduced yields due to conscientious thinning. Fortunately, there were no heat spikes. August was very dry and temperatures remained quite cool. The periodic humidity kept the vintners on their feet, as great diligence in the vineyards was essential. Well-timed rains in early September slowed things down, carrying the cool weather into October and ensuring sugar levels didn’t run away while maintaining healthy acidity levels. Harvesting began for most growers in the last week of September. Late harvests increased the complexity and depth of flavor in the wines, but not at the expense of freshness and energy. The only downside is that it was a small harvest, marked by a lot of small berries and clusters. Brightness and elegance are the hallmarks of 2019, a year some growers have described as a throwback to old times and style, before the hot vintages started piling up.

Springtime in the rolling terrain of the Chehalem Mountains.

2018: Generosity is the Word

The year 2018 began with an abnormally cold end of winter and beginning of spring, with more precipitation than usual. Bud burst finally occurred around mid-April. The weather quickly warmed up, allowing the vines to catch up at a steady pace. To everyone’s relief, the development and ripening of the fruits proceeded normally. The growing season was hot and dry, with lots of sun but fortunately few heat peaks. The arid conditions, which have become the norm in recent vintages, have slowed the metabolism of the plants, lengthening the curve of phenolic maturity and increasing the complexity of the wines obtained. Towards the end of August, as harvest approached, the region experienced days with temperatures in the low to mid-70s and nights in the mid-40s in many areas. There were also some refreshing and well-timed rains throughout early September. Fruit was mostly picked at relatively high sugar levels, but with healthy, even high acidity. At the tasting, the 2018s tend to be deeply colored and show very good maturity and a generous character. The overall impression of richness is especially noticeable when comparing the wines side-by-side with their 2019 siblings.

2017 – Revisited and reconsidered

I wrote in August 2020 that the 2017 vintage turned out to be a standout vintage for the sheer number of bright, well-structured wines that were produced despite the hottest August in Willamette Valley history. The best wines show an energy unlikely for such weather conditions, offering well-concentrated red and blue fruits, strong floral and spicy notes and well-melted tannins. Most of the 2017s I’ve tasted for this report are late releases, either from vineyards that have chosen to give their wines a certain bottle age before release, or from those that have seen longer barrel aging. longer than usual. These new releases tend to be a little richer than the 2017s I reviewed in my last report, and it seems like many wines are gaining weight, but not at the expense of energy. I think this vintage will age quite well and won’t be in a rush to pop corks anytime soon.

2016 – Onwards and upwards

In revisiting a number of 2016s, I found that many wines had deepened their character, taking a turn towards darker fruit while retaining energy. Overall the wines have very good structure if not as far as the 2015s show. In general, the tannins are slowly integrated into the lively fruit which is not likely to detach. Some secondary qualities emerge, notably in the aromas of entry-level bottlings; however, most wines seem to age at a relatively languid rate, especially for a mature vintage.

JK Carriere’s efficient winery on Parrett Mountain, where Jim Prosser consistently produces excellent, age-worthy Pinot Noirs that deserve far more attention than they get.

Where there is fire there is smoke – 2020, The Annus Horribilis

A potentially excellent vintage in the Willamette Valley took a serious turn for the worse when smoke from a damaging wildfire descended on the vineyards on September 12. Any fruit picked before was probably healthy, even if not ideally ripe in some cases. Fortunately, almost all of the white grapes had been harvested, but many producers chose not to make any red wines at all from the Pinot Noir harvest and simply walked away from their fruit. Others have tried to make the best of a dire situation and sold their grapes or wine in bulk, or downgraded/mixed everything in one bottling, or created a low-priced second label to displace quickly the wine on the market. Many others have opted to make a rosé wine, with quick pressing of the grapes to avoid potential smoke smells as much as possible. Several of the rosés I have tasted have been quite good.

Sadly, I can attest that these fears about the effect of smoke on Pinot Noir in 2020 seem well founded, at least from what I’ve seen so far.

Detecting the effects of a smoky taste in young wine, especially wine that is aging or has aged in toasted oak barrels is extremely difficult. Usually, the only clue for me is a feeling of flatness in the mouth, often accompanied by a strong bitterness on the finish. This is especially true for wines that are still in barrel as well as those that have been bottled recently. Is it smoked from the barrel or from, well, the smoke? The effect of the smell of smoke is much more pronounced on the palate than on the nose. Volatile phenols from smoke are absorbed by the grapes and bind to glucose, but there is no immediate, detectable expression of aromatic smoke. But what happens in the mouth is another story. The enzymes in the saliva separate the volatile phenols from the glycosides, which signifies the smoke of the fruit, and the odor can be detected, often dramatically. In my experience, the smell becomes more pronounced as the wine ages. This is a very rough description of what is happening. I freely admit that I am no scientist, so curious readers should dig into the widely available research and resources that can be found on Google for more reliable (and educated!) descriptions. It’s still early to taste most wines from the best and most conscientious producers, so an open mind is in order, but readers should do everything possible to taste the wines before buying them. If there is a vintage not to buy blindly, it is this one.

A tiny AVA that adjoins the Chehalem Mountains, Ribbon Ridge is home to some of the Willamette Valley’s best vineyards and most respected wineries.

Oregon offers value

The upward spiral in prices for the best pinot noir, everywhere, does not seem to stop. In fact, it seems to be accelerating, and Oregon is no exception to the trend. While many highly sought-after Pinots from California’s top regions of Santa Barbara County, San Luis Obispo County, the Santa Lucia Highlands, and the entire North Shore, several top Willamette Valley Pinots resemble Serious bargains by comparison, a growing number of wineries here are testing the upper limits of price. Almost all of these bottlings are made in minute quantities, often as little as three to five barrels, and even less than that in many cases. Yet, compared to the nose-bleedingly priced California Pinots, they very often offer good relative value.

Because so many producers will be making less Pinot Noir than usual from 2020 – many will be bottling once and as many are likely not bottling anything at all – my next report will be much smaller than in the past. . It will include late releases of 2019 and early releases of 2021. On that note, based on early reports in the Willamette Valley, 2021 is shaping up to be an exceptional vintage, which will hopefully alleviate some of the lingering pain caused by 2020.

I tasted most of these wines over the past few months in New York and the rest on a quick trip to the Willamette Valley in late November 2021.

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