Monday, February 18, 2008

Last Night's Tipple

The conventional wisdom is that Willamette Valley of Oregon is a better, or at least a more Burgundian, location to grow pinot noir than is California. Since my first experiment with California pinot noir wasn't particularly successful, I figured that I might as well give some Willamette Valley pinot a whirl. And what better exemplar of Willamette Valley pinot noir than that from Willamette Valley Vineyards? Willamette Valley Vineyards is one of the older producers in the area, having been founded in 1983 by native Oregonian Jim Bernau on land that he says "is similar to the red clay soil found in the Grand Cru Pinot Noir vineyards of RomaneƩ-st-Vivant in Burgundy". The winery produces some chardonnay, pinot gris, and riesling; but the emphasis is on pinot noir, and WVV produces several different bottlings. The one that I see most frequently is the Whole Cluster Fermented pinot. The winemaker's notes on this wine make it clear that what they mean by "whole cluster fermentation" is carbonic maceration, where whole clusters of fruit are sealed in vats filled with carbon dioxide. This environment promotes an anaerobic fermentation. Carbonic maceration is used extensively in Beaujolais and elsewhere to produce intensely fruity wines, and that appears to be WVV's intention with this one. It was suggested as a light aperitif wine, and that wasn't really what I was looking for. I chose instead the mainline 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. I thought that the vinification would have been more traditional, and the label says that the wine has spent time in French oak. The winemaker's notes confuse me, however. They say that "approximately 70% of the grape berries [remain] intact for inter-berry fermentation (which adds fruitiness)." That sounds like carbonic maceration to me, too, although I don't know why WVV wouldn't just come out and say it if in fact it was.

In any event, my first sniff prompted me to say, "well, finally, here's a real pinot." There was a good bit of earthiness, along with plenty of bright cherry fruit and violets. A lot of good pinot will supposedly have elements of roses or violets (or both) on the nose, and I like it when I find it. On the palate, it was fruity and pleasant. I have two complaints about it. First, it seemed a bit thin and short. Once I swallowed it, it was gone. There was no lingering aftertaste. It didn't coat my mouth with pinot-y goodness. Secondly, I would have preferred if it had been a bit more acidic. It seemed a bit flabby to me. All in all, though, I enjoyed it. At $20 a bottle, I don't know if it brings a whole lot of value; but then again, I haven't been doing very well with pinots that are cheaper.

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