Oregon Wine Club – September 2011

2008 Ponzi Vineyards, Reserve Pinot Noir
Last year Dick and Nancy Ponzi celebrated 40 years of producing world class Oregon wines. Over the course of those years they have earned awards and accolades much too numerous to mention, both for their wines, and for their work in promoting the Willamette Valley wine industry. Their journey began with many research trips to Burgundy and an exhaustive search for an ideal site in Oregon for their vineyards. But it all came together in 1970 when they founded Ponzi Vineyards. Flash forward four decades, and today the next generation is at the helm, with daughter Luisa Ponzi in charge of wine making. She is recognized nationally as a formidable winemaker in her own right, having combined apprenticeships in Burgundy and Italy, and study at the university in Beaune, with the experience she acquired growing up in her family winery. (She is married to fellow winemaker Eric Hamacher whose wine we have also featured in this club.) Luisa calls 2008 a truly magical vintage, one which got off to a late start with a long, cool spring, but finished with a glorious Indian summer, with warm days and cool nights that allowed the fruit to ripen perfectly and retain its natural acidity. Most of the fruit for this Reserve Pinot Noir comes from Ponzi’s Abetina Vineyard, which was planted with over 20 Pinot Noir clones back in 1975 as part of an early Oregon clonal test. The vines now produce the most intensely flavored, and elegantly nuanced grapes of all their vineyards, and they make a single-vineyard wine from Abetina fruit in the best vintages. This highly expressive Pinot Noir is silky and textured, with layers of spice and raspberry. Although it is lovely now, it will definitely develop over the next four to six years, when you could enjoy it with coq au vin and roasted vegetables. It is $57.

2008 Cristom, Estate Syrah
We often joke about “Pinot-rah,” or Pinot Noirs that are so big and meaty they taste like Syrah wannabes. Well, we would have to say that this wine—yes, you read that right, it is a Syrah from Oregon—has a bit of Pinot on its mind. And that’s what intrigued us. It seems that some growers in Oregon are discovering that the region can also produce remarkable Syrah, although only a handful people in the cool Willamette Valley are doing so at this point. One of them is Steve Doerner, winemaker for Cristom Vineyards. Seeing the success that local growers had been having with Viognier, he decided to plant several acres to Syrah, another warm-climate grape. After all, the northern Rhône, home to some of the finest Syrahs in the world, is not that far from Burgundy, the land of Pinot Noir. Today, Cristom may be the only winery in Oregon making an estate Syrah. Unlike so many Syrahs we come across that are big, intense, and jammy, this one is much more reminiscent of its northern Rhône roots: lean on the palate, with a backbone of peppercorns and spice. No jam in sight! There is a richness to the wine, but it is not overpowering, making it much more food-friendly than the heavier styles. All in all, this is a wonderful cool-climate expression of the grape. It’s no wonder that Steve Doerner is optimistic about the future of Syrah in Oregon. At this point, he doesn’t produce much of it, and this one is $28. It would be perfect with lamb dishes, or a juicy pepper steak.