2010 Eyrie Vineyards, Oregon Pinot Noir
Most people have heard of the Judgment of Paris in 1976, when California wines beat out their French counterparts and won begrudging credibility for U.S. viticulture. Not long after that event, a young Oregon winery’s 1975 Pinot Noir placed in the top ten at the Wine Olympiad in Paris, and came in second at a subsequent competition in Beaune, thus placing Oregon firmly on the wine world’s map as well. This winery was Eyrie, which was established in 1966 by David Lett, who would later earn the respected nickname, “Papa Pinot.” At only 25, but armed with an enology degree from UC Davis and research experience in Europe, Lett planted the first Pinot Noir grapes in the Willamette Valley, in the Dundee Hills, about 30 miles southwest of Portland. Sadly, David Lett passed away in 2008, but his son, Jason, who took over as winemaker and vineyard manager in 2005, continues the family legacy. All of their wines are estate grown on their own rootstock, are unirrigated and see no insecticides, herbicides or fungicides. They keep intervention to a minimum in the winery, too—with minimal racking, spontaneous malolactic fermentation, no fining, and little filtration. The resulting wines have always been characterized by their pure, varietal flavors and expression of terroir. Eyrie wines are typically approachable when young, but also very ageworthy. In fact, that 1975 Pinot was still showing beautifully at a retrospective tasting in honor of David Lett’s career, in 2008. Like all of Eyrie wines, this Pinot is classically styled, with great elegance and finesse. Complex and harmonious, it is a lovely introduction to the wines from this legendary winery. It is $35.
2009 Carlton Hill, Reserve Pinot Noir
When Carlton Hill winemaker David Polite was in the shop recently to pour his wines for us, he told us with a smile how, when he was first planting his vineyards, back in 1999, none other than David Lett questioned whether he’d ever be able to grow Pinot there. That was because David (Polite) was planting his vines with a pure eastern exposure, like many of the great Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy, rather than facing south, like most vineyards in the area. But he proceeded, with the belief that this orientation would allow the grapes to ripen slowly and gently, preserving the complex character of Pinot Noir. And Polite was right. His vineyard lies in the heart of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, on ancient sedimentary marine soils, some of the oldest in the Willamette Valley. It is quick draining soil, so vines stop growing shoots and leaves earlier, and grapes achieve more complete ripening. Polite planted his vines densely to produce more concentrated, intense flavors. This wine, a blend of two Dijon clones, is supple and alluring, with silky tannins, dark, savory fruit, and a long, lingering finish, and it checks in at a food friendly 13.5% alcohol. But with its firm backbone and structure, it really needs some time for these qualities to develop fully and come into their own. It should be at its best in two to five years, when you can enjoy it with fowl, or savory dishes. It’s $49.75 and Polite made only about 100 cases. If you want to get an idea of how Carlton Hill wines age, we brought in some of their 2007 Estate Pinot, at $29.75 that is drinking beautifully now. Oh, and that guy with a croquet mallet on the label? No back story, just a tie in to the manicured croquet court they built on top of Carlton Hill Vineyard, overlooking the vineyard and the Willamette Valley.