COMMENTARY

Spectator’s Points in Print

By Karl Klooster

The Jan. 31–Feb. 29, 2012 issue of Wine Spectator featured a special report on Oregon Pinot Noir. In a tasting evaluation conducted by this widely acclaimed periodical, more than 200 of them were awarded 90-plus points.

This impressive accolade is further confirmation that, over the last decade, the larger wine world has come to acknowledge what everyone within or close to the Oregon wine industry has known for at least twice as long. 

At their best, Oregon Pinot Noirs equal, if not surpass, the best anywhere. That’s saying a lot under any circumstances. But it’s particularly noteworthy given the fact that Oregon’s plantings of Pinot Noir are a tiny fraction of the world’s total.

Pinot Noir grows well only in specific climatic, agronomic and geographic settings. Even then, and under ideal conditions, it must be carefully tended throughout the growing season. As a consequence, it accounts for only about 2 percent of the world’s total vineyard acreage. In 2010, the total acreage planted to winegrapes throughout the world was estimated at 17 million acres. That would mean 340,000 acres of Pinot Noir.

At least some Pinot Noir is grown in 26 countries around the globe; but only a few cool-climate regions are considered best suited to bring out the grape’s full potential

On its home turf, the Côte-d’Or district in France’s Burgundy region, 4,500 hectares or slightly more than 11,000 acres are devoted to the most elegant and finicky of red wine grapes.

In California, the total is 36,300 acres, almost all in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, the Carneros District at the southern end of the Napa Valley and the Santa Ynez Valley northeast of Santa Barbara.

At the southern end of New Zealand’s South Island, the Otago region has attracted attention in recent years for the fruit purity and character of its Pinot Noirs. Otago’s vineyards are estimated at a modest but rapidly expanding 1,500 hectares, or 3,700 acres.

Oregon Pinot Noir accounts for 12,265 of the state’s total 20,300 wine acres or 60 percent, making Oregon by far the most Pinot-centric of any wine region outside the Côte-d’Or itself.

Still, Oregon Pinot Noir represents a tiny 4/10ths of 1 percent of the world total winegrape plantings and approximately 20 percent of the above-mentioned cool-climate regions that are its true competitive counterparts.

Wine Spectator Editor-at-Large Harvey Steiman’s feature article on recent vintages of Oregon Pinot Noir could not have been more complimentary. Titled “Oregon’s Pinot Eloquence,” it reported they range “from ultra-delicate to thick and rich.”

Steiman emphasized that despite seasonal disparities often seen in cool-climates, “Oregon’s top vintners seem to have found a way to keep quality consistent even as the styles vary.”

He elaborated by saying, “For Pinot Noir lovers, the grape’s ability to express not only the specifics of a site but also the character of the vintage is part of its magic. The (Oregon) wines currently on the market demonstrate that point vividly.”

It’s also interesting to note that freelance photographer Andrea Johnson, who has photographed nearly every cover for Oregon Wine Press since February 2007, took the photos for Steiman’s feature article.

Verifying his earlier estimation of 2008 as perhaps the greatest ever for Oregon Pinot Noir, he rated two-thirds of the wines evaluated from that vintage at 90 points or more.

His opinion of the 2009s was couched in the caveat that the winemakers who succeeded in this high-yield vintage “struck a balance between density and delicacy.” However, he contended that the results were less consistent than in 2008.

As for the light, low crop 2010s, he praised the elegance and purity of their lower alcohol and true finesse. “The wines I tasted from barrel were a revelation, pure, deep and focused with fresh flavors and tannins that feel light and barely crisp,” he said.

Though the cover indicated 200 Oregon Pinots had been ranked at higher than 90 points, it was disappointing to discover that only a third of those were actually listed in the print edition.

The others may be found on the www.winespectator.com website, but only if you are or become a member.

Understandably that omission proved to be a letdown for all the Oregon wineries whose wines rose above the critical quality threshhold only to be excluded where it counted most.

Wineries whose wines were described in the issue included the following (although some wineries placed more than one wine, they are only mentioned once):

97–94 points: Domaine Serene, King Estate, Beaux Freres, Maysara, Brittan, Penner Ash, Shea, Sineann, Stoller/Verve, Ayoub,  Evening Land.

93–90 points: Archery Summit, Atticus, Bethel Heights, Brick House, Boedecker, Chehalem, Cristom, Dobbes, Erath, Hamacher, Matzinger Davies, Adelsheim, Artisanal, Broadley, Cherry Hill, Domain Drouhin, Elk Cove, Denison, William Hatcher, Hyland, Reustle Prayer Rock, Andrew Rich, Eyrie, BlackCap, Sokol Blosser, St. Innocent, Ransom, Haden Fig and J. Daan.

The following wineries were listed solely online despite being awarded similarly high scores:

93–90: A to Z Wineworks, Aberrant, ADEA, Alexana, Amity, Anne Amie, ArborBrook, Argyle, Aubichon, Benton-Lane, Bergström, Biggio Hamina, Cardwell Hill, Cherry Hill, Coelho, Colene Clemens, David Hill, deLancellotti, Et Fille, Expression 44°, Illahe, Ken Wright, Lange Estate, Le Cadeau, Left Coast, Lemelson, Lenné, Longplay, Loring, Luminous Hills, Merriman, Patton Valley, Ponzi, Raptor Ridge, Retour, Rex Hill, Ribbon Ridge, ROCO, Roots, Siduri, Soléna, Sonría, Soter, Trisaetum, Twelve, White Rose, WillaKenzie, Willamette Valley Vineyards, Zenith.

 

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