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The Many Dimensions of Oregon Pinot Noirs

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Last year I was fortunate to attend a seminar here in New York City entitled, "The Multiple Personalities of Oregon Pinot Noir." It was in part responsible for my essay on vintage variation, which I think is worth a read. The core of the day's event consisted of a series of three blind tastings that were to highlight the various elements that come into play while forming the character of each wine: site, vintage and winemaking techniques.

Each session was significantly blind in that we, the participants, knew nothing about the wines, beyond the fact that they were Oregon Pinots. For the first flight, we knew the vintages and were encouraged to guess which wine was the 2007 and which was the 2008, or in one case, the 2009. The second flight consisted of 2007 and another vintage. Here we were encouraged to guess what the other vintage might have been, as well as which vintage we preferred, with bonus points for observations on how winemaking might be tempering some of those differences.

The third and final flight of wines was of a single vintage and we tasted them mostly for fun, though trying to group them into stylistic camps if we could. Easier said than done, but read on to find the results.

Flight 1

With this first flight, it was obvious which of each pair was the 2007. This is a well-known, relatively high acid vintage that is on the leaner side with decidedly redder fruit than many vintages in Oregon. Interestingly, when one looks at the chart for heat accumulation during the growing season, 2007 not only comes out above 2008, it also beat the averages for the periods 1961-1990 and 1971-2000. So why the green, lean character then?

While 2007 was far from the coolest vintage on record, it does hold the record for the earliest harvest of the past decade, and a harvest marred by rain at that. Thus was born a vintage with wonderful fruit that just has difficulty expressing itself. Think of the wines as having missed high school!

In comparison, 2008 was a long, if cool, growing season that allowed the grapes to mature slowly with slightly lower sugars and higher acidities than had become the norm for Oregon. In fact, it was a classic Oregonian vintage and has produced poised, fresh-balanced wines. In two of these three pairings, I preferred the 2008 to the corresponding 2007, though the Eyrie wines were very close in the end.

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