01/16/07 – Oregon (part 2 of 3)

By Jesse on January 15, 2007


This week’s return to Oregon is roughly analogous to Jack Bauer’s return from his internment in China: we’re bruised, we’re battered, and we have slightly more facial hair, but we’re still thirsty for freedom and justice.  And wine.

According to Karen MacNeil, Oregon is the only major region outside of Burgundy that specializes in Pinot Noir — she refers to it as the “soul of winemaking here,” and although we tasted some nice Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay last week, Oregon is most renowned for its reds, particularly those grown in the Willamette Valley.  Apparently, the French journal Progres Agricole et Viticole (roughly translated as Our Wine is the Best in the World) did a study in which they compared the climates of the town of McMinnville in the Willamette Valley and the city of Beaune in Burgundy, and discovered that the two regions mirror each other almost identically in sunlight, temperature, and average rainfall.  The hallmark of both regions is a cool climate combined with high amounts of precipitation.  MacNeil elaborates: “grown where they are bathed in the hot sun, [Pinot Noir] grapes end up as a wine that tastes something like pureed prunes mixed with flat cola.”  In Willamette’s cool maritime climate, however, grapes “do not burst into ripeness but instead make their way slowly and methodically toward maturity.”  The result is some of the world’s best Pinot Noir — Willamette examples placed third in an international competition as early as 1979 — and we hope to taste several good bottles on Tuesday evening.  For more information on Oregon wines, please check out the website that you were all supposed to visit last week: http://www.winesnw.com/orhome.html

Oregon produces so little red wine outside of the Willamette Valley that we’ll just include all the other appellations with tomorrow’s meeting.  Therefore, please feel free to bring any Oregon red that you find.  Several of the smaller AVAs, such as Rogue Valley and Walla Walla, produce Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  These regions have warmer climates than Willamette Valley and aren’t as ideal for producing Pinot.  That said, these wines tend to be produced in more limited qualities and may be difficult to find.  Also, the Pinots you encounter may run on the expensive side, so I encourage you to “buddy up” with another member and split the cost of one bottle.  Pinot Noir, especially when it’s from such a prestigious region, is going to be one of the varietals for which bargains won’t be as easy to discover, especially since the whole Sideways craze, I would assume.

Brief mention should be made of the “Single Vineyard” designation that you may encounter while shopping for your Oregon red.  As we encountered on our trip to Santa Barbara, the phrase refers to a wine made from grapes grown exclusively in one vineyard rather than “sourced” from multiple locations within the region identified on the bottle.  These wines, as you’ll remember, are typically more expensive and allegedly more indicative of a particular terrior (perhaps Jason will offer his thoughts on this suggestion at the meeting).  According to the Wine Bible, the single-vineyard wines from Oregon may not necessarily reflect better quality, and here’s why: “blending from different vineyards has historically been the way Oregon Pinot Noir has achieved complexity.  The idea is a good one, and it works.”  Please don’t let this discourage you from paying a few dollars more for a single-vineyard wine if it looks really appealing for some reason.  However, if the price difference between two wines is extreme, the single-vineyard designation may not be sufficient reason to break your bank for the pricey one.  (As always, feel free to bring a $10 “no-wine” donation if you can’t make it to your local wine dispensary.)

It’s gonna be a great meeting… I have a terroir story to share with everyone of which I’m sure even Jason will approve.  Also, I’d like to mention that we may be welcoming a journalist to Tuesday night’s meeting.  Therefore, I would ask you all to behave like the reasonable members of society that you were before alcohol corrupted your lives.  No outlandish outfits, no illegal drugs before or during the meeting, and Leah, make sure that friend of yours in the green shirt doesn’t show up.

We’ll be meeting at Regan‘s lofty abode in the former Pabst Brewery, which is near downtown, and easily accessible via Los Angeles’s brilliant system of interconnected free-access highways: Find yourself a nice Oregon red, bring tasting notes or a relevant article if you can be bothered, and we'll see you all on Tuesday night at 9:00. Jesse