Setting the Record Straight

By Ken Collura

I remember the day I first fell in love with Pinot Noir. I had just moved to France and was living in Nice on the Mediterranean. Although I had grown up around wine (my Sicilian grandfather made his own), I was only about 22 years old and a favorite pairing at the time was Hostess Cupcakes—the one with the white squiggle down the middle—and milk. My girlfriend, however, was older and wiser, and she pointed out the enlightened paths during this period of my evolvement.

The wine epiphany took place at a bistro on the Moyen Corniche in the hills above Nice. I can recall everything on the table that day: grilled—not fried—calamari, butterflied on a skewer and a glass of crisp Rosé. This was followed by a filet of local fish in a beurre blanc sauce, pomme frites with aioli and a fresh green salad to finish. The wine she chose to accompany this beautiful meal was Volnay. It was a jolting introduction to Pinot Noir, and it blew me away. All the tastebuds on my palate stood up and said, “Boys, we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Light, elegant and fruity, the Burgundy elevated the food like no other wine I had yet tasted. I was hooked.

What that meal—and many others that followed—served to establish was a correlation in my mind between lighter, fresher styles of food and Pinot Noir. Over the years, this relationship has never wavered. Which brings us to the subject at hand.

I’ve recently read reviews regarding the 2007 Oregon Pinot Noirs, most of which are in the marketplace now. These reviews were gleaned from a number of publications, both local and national, and are well known to the readers of the Oregon Wine Press. And here are some of the things they said: pale; thin; somewhat insipid; lacking stuffing and, most to the point, a vintage to skip. Stand back folks, as I plan to rant a bit here.

What the 2007 Oregon Pinot Noirs ARE NOT: huge, opaque, fat, lush, sappy, powerful or overripe.

What the 2007 Oregon Pinot Noirs ARE: bright, finesse-driven with good acidity, fresh, light-to-mid-weight and food-friendly.

The ham-fisted table-thumpers who seek Syrah in their Pinots will be disappointed. The ’07s will not pair well with steaks and chops. However, they will marry happily with the dishes that Pinot from vintages such as this one have always paired well: fish, chicken, veggies and salads. What’s wrong with Pinot that looks, smells and tastes like Pinot?

Having personally tasted about 75 different 2007s, I believe I have this vintage pegged now. The wines are high-toned and snappy, with colors that remind me of Oregon Pinots from the ’90s—i.e., correct color and weight in the glass, but not black and over-extracted. Aromas are generally understated and clean, with some sour—or “pie”—cherry top-notes. The grand majority exhibits a beautiful dexterity at table, a trait that makes us sommeliers smile.

Wine is meant as an accompaniment for food, something to elevate the dish being served to a higher level. When a wine becomes the focal point of a meal, things have gone awry. These “wines with bolts in their neck” tend to trample the flavors of a meal with displays of their bravado.

We need years like 2007 to offset powerhouse vintages like ’03 and ’06. Sure, this was a difficult vintage to navigate, but after discussions with dozens of winemakers and other professionals in the business, the assessment seems to be unanimous. Everybody who works on a daily basis with this product feels the ’07s are clean, happy wines meant for fairly early consumption.

So this summer, let’s cool them down and crack them open with the bounties that Oregon summers provide. And possibly move those negative reviews to the bottom of the birdcage where they may have a more applicable use. 

Ken Collura has been the wine director/sommelier at Andina Restaurant in Portland since 2005. He was head sommelier for nine years at Bern’s Steak House in Tampa, Fla., where he oversaw a 6,500-entry wine list with 500,000 bottles in stock. His writing background includes a stint as syndicated wine columnist for the Tampa Tribune and numerous trade articles in Cheers and Santé magazines, among others.

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