Friday, March 19, 2010

A Snapshot of Two Oregon Pinots

How do you prefer to refer to the lowest-priced and most broadly available wines available from a winery? I don't like the term "entry level" as it says more about the relative price point than the wine. "Basic" doesn't work, as it implies mediocrity when that may not be the case, and the terms "domaine" or "estate" only work if the grapes are estate grown and if other estate-grown wines are made from particular parcels or vineyards.

However you term it, such wines should act as a calling card (to borrow Terry Theise's term) and represent the winery well. They should also honestly reflect the vintage and the terroir and not be price-driven into mediocrity. So maybe I should call such wines "standard bearers," or "standard" for short. Unless, of course, they're not the standard. Regardless, I recently decided to check in on a couple such Willamette Valley pinot noirs.

Yamhill Valley Vineyards Oregon Pinot Noir 2007Yamhill Valley Vineyards Oregon Pinot Noir 2007
Ah, 2007, a vintage where growers in the Willamette Valley had to fight rain at harvest and make lighter, lower-alcohol wines, such as this 12.2% pinot. Yamhill's wines are typically dense thanks to their heavy, clay-rich soils, but this one you can file under "tasty bistro quaffer." It's the color of translucent rose petals, light bodied, and it delivers juicy raspberry and cherry flavors with slightly sharp acidity that mellows slightly on night two. There's a pinch of earth here, and the wine gets bonus points for showing notes of Canadian bacon, of all things!

I'm not sure where all the grapes for this wine come from. Yamhill typically bottles a McMinnville AVA-attributed "Estate" wine at this high-teens price point, but this one is labeled "Oregon." In any case, this does represent the vintage and on that merit is fairly successful.

J.K. Carriere Pinot Noir Provocateur Willamette Valley 2006
The Provocateur is J.K. Carriere's lowest-priced pinot noir but is usually made in much smaller quantities than its more expensive big sib, which is simply called "Willamette Valley." Likewise, it's made from grapes purchased throughout the valley, and in 2006 was raised solely in used (primarily thrice-filled) barrels.

The trick in this hot vintage was to avoid making soft, fat, uninteresting wines. Here, winemaker Jim Prosser pulls that trick off. This Provocateur did not show well this time last year, but it's clear that it was going through a sullen and awkward adolescence; it's only now coming into its drinking window, and barely at that. It's now promisingly pale, yet the fruit is still very primary, speaking of black cherry flesh and black cherry skins. There's some red earth and cherry wood smoke on the nose and just a touch of heat, although the heat is not evident on the palate. The balance is much better now compared to last year, the quite dry finish is longer, and complexity is emerging in the form of earth, sandalwood, sweet grapefruit, and herb tones. I like the refreshing acidity, the firm structure, the medium-full texture. The tannins are fine yet slightly raw.

I very much regret that this was my last bottle of the '06 Provocateur — this could become quite elegant — but I at least know now to keep my hands off the '06 WV bottling for at least two years, and preferably longer.


Jason Zenobia "The Flaming Chef" said...

Your review has forced me to retaliate by posting a dry roasted pork shoulder recipe over at The Flaming Chef.

Because pork is super with Pinot Noir.

I hope you are happy.

Wicker Parker said...

Happy, yes, though I'll be even happier when I try out your recipe for myself.

I hear that Lubriderm helps with those dry shoulders. Moisturize, moisturize!

Rachel said...

Ah, Mr. Wicker Parker, your lovely words make me very thirsty. Not the standard, nor super inexpensive, but my absolute favorite '07 has become the Antica Terra, Willamette Valley, by Ms. Maggie Smith. So ethereal. She said she cried every day of harvest and thought she ruined it, but it turned out to taste like magic.

We should drink some together sometime! Smooches, friend.