November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving weekend in the northern Willamette Valley

I managed to visit some wineries yesterday in McMinnville, Carlton and then up on Ribbon Ridge. The day couldn't have been more beautiful, and the wines and beer at each stop were excellent. This was one of those really good days in wine country.

I started with the long drive to "Mac" to visit the Eyrie Vineyards in the wine ghetto near downtown McMinnville. What's this? There's a sign for Westrey Wine Company just before I get to Eyrie. I've never visited here but like the wines, so in a go for a quick taste. The whites are lovely, with fresh pinot gris and toasty chardonnay that's still elegant. The '07 pinot noirs are lovely, with the '07 Pinot Noir Reserve reminding me of the '07 Oracle Vineyard. The newly released '08s are the highlight. The '08 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley is nicely intense with grippy tannin. The '08 Justice Vineyard is darker fruited and structured. The '08 Oracle the pick here, with great perfume, high toned with great intensity. I'm coming to love this vineyard.

Quickly I move to the Eyrie Vineyards, this being my first visit to the holy grail of Oregon pinot noir. This old  dairy processing plant has thick concrete walls so the barrel cellar is nicely dank and humid. I start with the '08 Muscat Ottonel that's dry, floral and crisp. Then the '08 Pinot Blanc that's lemony and pure. I have a bottle of the '07 in my fridge that I'm excited to try. Then the '07 Pinot Gris, so smokey and pure. I love this.

Moving to the next station, I try the 2008 Chardonnay that's lovely and subtle, with just a hint of oak and great purity. Then the 2007 Chardonnay Original Vines Reserve from the old block, with lots of toasty notes, hazelnuts and young chard fruit. I prefer the 2008 right now, but the 2007 is for keeping.

Then the reds in the main tasting room. The 2008 Pinot Meunier is fresh and peppery, almost like gamay. The 2007 Estate Pinot Noir is lovely, ripe and pure, and should age nicely I imagine. Then the 2004 Reserve Pinot Noir that's earthy and a little animal with great length. Finally, the 2003 Reserve Pinot Noir that's also earthy but nicely fresh and not at all "hot year" in character. Should I admit I recently passed up a chance to buy two bottles of this at $25 each, thinking 2003 just wasn't a very good year? When will I learn. Buy producers, not vintages.

I'm due to meet up with a group of friends, but what's this? Heater-Allen Brewing right down the street? I can't pass it up. So I taste through the Dunkel, Pils, Sandy Paws and Schwartz beers and buy a six pack of 22oz. bottles, mostly the Sandy Paws. I love Heater-Allen beers, so honest in the Germanic tradition but clearly local and "Oregon." Seek out this beer. It's that good.

So, up to Carlton to meet up with friends at Cana's Feast, where I'm friends with the winemaker Patrick Taylor, so consider that if you're worried about subjectivity. Readers know that I'm not a huge fan of big, new world wines, and Cana's Feast makes some pretty big, new world wines. But exceptions abound, and I really appreciate what's going on in this cellar. The '06 Nebbiolo is a little toasty, but authentically ruby in color with terrific structure. I really like this. The '06 Reserve Sangiovese is pretty toasty, but nicely varietal with great bitter almond and cherry fruit flavors. I may prefer the regular Sangiovese for the lower oak profile, but that's a matter of taste. The '06 Syrah is big and rich, but was indeed a nice match with the chicken liver pate as the pourer suggested. Speaking of food, the spread at Cana's Feast is the best this day by far. Pork loin, sections of huge wheels of Italian cheese, that pate, foccacia, and so on. My group of friends really like this stop and I'm glad to meet up with them and not miss out.

Then to Ribbon Ridge to close the day at Brick House Vineyards. The crowd at Cana's Feast is big, and the town of Carlton is absolutely hopping with tasters. Then out at Brick House there are cars everywhere. We head in to the crowded cellar and get a taste of the 2007 Chardonnay, not short of oak toast but really nicely rich, balanced and long. The first pinot noir is the 2008 Select, not as dark as other '08s I've tried elsewhere and softer in structure, but delicious all the same. Finally, two 2007s that provide a great counterpoint for the vintage. First the '07 Pinot Noir Les Dijonnais, all Dijon clones and my preference, so fragrant and lacy in the mouth, this is really good 2007 pinot noir. The '07 Cuvee du Tonnelier is only less in comparison. It's all Pommard clone, something I usually prefer but here it's not quite as graceful and complete. I like it well, but Les Dijonnais is exceptional. To close, I tasted some lovely honies from Andrew the Bee Man and then goat cheeses from Monteillet Fromagerie out of Dayton, WA. I buy some unsalted fresh cheve with herbs and a small round called Larzac that's ripe and lucious.

Then outside to say goodbye to friends at dusk and head back to Portland, my head clear from spitting (mostly) and taking my time over this excellent day. Ah, Thanksgiving weekend in Oregon. Few things are better.


Joel said...

Great read Vincent. I was out tasting on Saturday. I agree the Oracle by Westrey is a really nice wine! I like the 07 and 08 very much although they do show much vintage variation.
Eyrie 03, 04 and 06 pinot - geez that is so Eyrie... Isn't it great when a wine's style simply becomes its name and an adjective that can be used for it and others like it.

Anonymous said...

Nice call on the Les Dijonais. My father liked it so much he bought a couple of magnums. We hit Brickhouse every spring. Good stuff!

J. said...

Vincent, I always enjoy your blog. I take it you didn't seize the rare opportunity to also taste Eyrie Vineyards library Chardonnays during your visit. Vintages going back to 1982 were being showcased throughout the Thanksgiving weekend.

Debate stille rages about everyone's favorite as there were not a bad one. I know where my votes went: to the 1985 and 1992 Reserve Chardonnays. Cheers! Santé! - Jacques

Vincent Fritzsche said...

Jacques, thanks for the comment. Glad you like the blog. Yes, I skipped the old chards. It's stupid really, but I was sort of in a hurry and then ran into a friend who works there and before I knew it, it was time to go. Not that I didn't quickly stop at Heater-Allen before catching up with my group. I've had a chance to taste old Eyrie chards before, including the '85. I trust I will again. That day it just wasn't to be. I was hoping no one would notice.