Oregon Wine Club – May 2009

2007 Phelps Creek Estate Reserve Pinot Noir
As they say in the wine world, pretty much anyone can make good wine in a good year, but in a bad year, only great winemakers can pull it off. In Oregon, 2007 was, to put it mildly, challenging. Just as harvest time arrived, so did the rains, forcing the decision whether to pick early, before the grapes were optimally ripe, or wait, and risk over-saturating them. In such a situation, excellent vineyard management and winemaking skills are crucial, especially with the ultra finicky Pinot Noir grape. And for wineries such as Phelps Creek, whose philosophy is “Pinot Noir is farmed, not made,” it was an opportunity to show what they are truly capable of. Based on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge, in Hood River, Phelps Creek uses all estate fruit for its reserve Pinot, and when they brought it in recently for us to taste, there was only one way to describe it: ethereal. It starts with a delicate, earthy nose, followed by dark fruit and spice on the palate, ending with a super long finish. Many people are finding the 2007 Pinot Noirs too light bodied, but we’ve been finding that the well-made ones have a classic, almost Burgundian style that really lets the expressiveness of the Pinot grape shine through. With its wonderful earthy backbone, this one is a fabulous food wine, for salmon, of course, or you could pair it with game, roasted duck, or wild mushrooms. It’s $45 and, while lovely now, will develop beautifully in the cellar for three to five years.

2007 Cancilla Cellars Chardonnay
Difficult vintage or not, if you really want to stay in tune with your fruit, you can’t do better than Ken Cancilla. As he stressed on our recent wine tasting visit to Oregon, “I live right there in the vineyards! I know exactly how the grapes are doing; when to pick and when to wait.” Little wonder then, that we immediately fell in love with his wines when we first tasted them last year. Ken’s is a small, estate winery located in the foothills of Oregon’s Coast Range in the Willamette Valley, and he is owner, vineyard manager and winemaker. And he knows what he’s doing. We cajoled our way into getting enough of his extremely limited 2006 Reserve Pinot Noir for the September Oregon Club. This month, we present his Chardonnay, a wonderfully fresh and clean expression of the grape, with lively acidity and a long, lingering finish. Some have claimed it to be the best Chardonnay coming out of Oregon. At $34, it’s lovely now and perfect for scallops in cream sauce or perhaps chicken fettucini.